During my childhood we frequently changed houses. Each time we left our old house – that we called home – to move into a new one, a part of me felt sad. Those walls bore witness to my dumb conquests against mosquitoes, mother’s love and rage, all those happy moments we shared on a hot afternoon over mangoes. Yet that change was inevitable. In an early scene, as Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) and his mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) paint their soon to be vacated house, he seems to be sad about leaving back the home and moving back to another town but chooses to be silent. His older sister, Sam, is more vocal about the change. Olivia wants to go back to school so that she can get a good job and take care of her children. Such scenes are all over the place in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood.
Richard Linklater’s made great and ambitious films before but his idea of making a film about a boy growing up seemed outrageous at first and yet it would end up being the greatest thing he’d ever pull off. Ethan Hawke, who collaborates frequently with Linklater – hat tip to Before series — signed up along with Patricia Arquette on this mad journey in 2002. It was shot for 45 days over 12 years from 2002-2014. An unknown kid along with Lorelei, Linklater’s daughter was chosen to play the kids in the film. When I first read about the film after watching Before Sunrise and Sunset, I suspected if it could be any good. Much like Linklater’s other films, Boyhood at times looks unscripted and free-flowing but thankfully never disappoints. With a running time of over 160 minutes – a major chunk of the film seems to be shot in the latter part of the 12 years understandably – I can gladly say that the dull moments are few and rare.
Mason and Sam (Lorelei Linklater) move to Houston with Olivia’s dreams of getting a degree. Their father, Mason Sr., who visits them on some weekends, engages them with gifts in return for some good time with them. In one particular scene, he confronts Sam and Mason about how they don’t share anything with him and realizes how they hardly know anything about him. Boyhood also makes a social commentary – albeit very sublimely – about America’s teenage pregnancies – Olivia’s being case in point. Both Olivia and Mason Sr. note in different levels of frustration about their mistake and remind us how difficult parenting is, throughout the film.
With divorced parents, Mason and Sam spend most of their childhood with 2 alcoholic – Mason Sr. and Jr. note Olivia’s fascination with alcoholics’ in a scene towards the end- and abusive step fathers. To be fair, the war veteran guy turned corrections officer guy that Olivia marries later is in many ways a better husband but finds it incredibly difficult to deal with his wife’s kids. The first one, Bill, is downright abusive, even with his kids from another mother. That scene at the dinner table with Bill is scarily real and a testament to Linklater’s directing abilities.
Mostly though, Boyhood lets us watch the everyday life of a normal kid growing up. We watch him as he looks curiously at a lingerie magazine, we watch him feel helpless as men come and go in his mother’s life, we watch him strut awkwardly trying to be cool when he’s just another kid who spends his day playing video games and then we chuckle a bit as his mother finds out about his drug habits. Mason is an introvert and when he speaks it’s about how constant social media is ruining the world or how awkward he really is. We also watch Ellar Coltrane who plays Mason grow from a shy face to being cocky and confident in front of the camera.
Coltrane was 8 years old and without much acting experience when he signed the project. A lot of the output of this film depended on his dedication to the project. Watching him towards the end of the film makes the audience realize that Linklater has made a very wise choice. Lorelei Linklater who plays the older sister appears confident right from the first scene and is a scene stealer especially in the first part of the film. Ethan Hawke offers fatherly advice from time to time all the while wondering as to how they’re growing up so fast. In many ways, Ethan’s role of their estranged father is similar to audience. We only see snippets of their life as these kids grow up and their mom struggles to find balance. As the mother, though, Patricia Arquette has a complex role but does an excellent job. That scene at the end when she breaks down as Mason leaves for college is soul stirring. If she doesn’t get and Oscar nod, it would likely leave me disappointed.
Linklater’s choice of music is excellent too and the way the song ‘Hero – Family of the Year’ is shot as Mason leaves for college in his truck is unforgettable. Linklater also subtly tries to bring in the Austin’s eclectic culture towards the end without over doing it a bit. At a time when, new and original films are hard to come by, Boyhood comes as a sigh of relief and is perhaps the best movie I’ve seen in a long long time. Linklater who previously made Dazed and Confused, one of the most memorable coming-of-age films, redefines the genre with Boyhood, which is likely to be remembered for many many years.
PS – In case you didn’t already know, you can find the film on #YouKnowWhere.