Boyhood (2014)

Director: Richard Linklater

Starring: Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke

Without even thinking hard, I can safely say that the years of my life which played the biggest role in shaping who I am today were ages 6 through 18. Much of my fondest memories (amid a few not-so fond ones) come out of that twelve-year period. I’ve never taken greater vacations, never formed more long-lasting friendships, nor have I as yet learned quite as much about who I am supposed to be in this world than during those years. I also recognize how incredibly blessed I was during this time, as not everyone is afforded the same opportunities, nor fortunate enough to live in a stable household. Some may say this is good/bad luck, while others may come to refer to it as “character-building.” I call it “life.”

In “Boyhood,” we are invited into the life of Mason Evans Jr. (Ellar Coltrane). When we first meet him in 2002, Mason is six years old and lives with his mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and older sister Samantha in Houston, Texas. I’m a little fuzzy on exactly how long Olivia and Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) had been divorced up to this point. What is clear is that Mason’s mother is struggling to make ends meet. Determined to see things change, Olivia returns to school at the University of Houston to get her degree. Unfortunately, while there, she makes the mistake of falling in love with and marrying her professor, named Bill.

While he’s good for her at first, as the years pass it becomes clear that Bill is excessively strict, both with his own children from a previous marriage and with Mason Jr. and Samantha. Bill is also an abusive alcoholic. Fearing for her own life and the well-being of her children, Olivia grabs what she can and gets herself, Mason and Samantha to safety. Despite her kids’ aversion to the idea of having to start over in a new town, it was clearly the only choice Olivia could have made. Now, you’d think that a lesson would have been learned there, but no. In time, Olivia (who has become a college teacher) eventually becomes involved with Jim, an Iraqi War veteran, who is no less fond of the booze, no less strict than Bill was. However, the fact that Mason and Samantha are both older by this time means that Jim is unable to impose his will as effectively. Regardless, Olivia still ends up leaving him just as quickly.

What of Mason Sr., you ask? As the odd man out in this family, he only gets sporadic visitation rights, which he hadn’t been taking advantage of as of 2002, due to his being away in Alaska. But by 2004, he is pledging his son and daughter that he will spend more time with them. This includes fun at the bowling alley, baseball games, and camping trips. From then on, for every time that Mason Jr. is finding it hard to deal with life such as it is, his bonding sessions with his father help to see him through each of these hardships. As his son grows into a man, Mason Sr. himself evolves from an out-of-work slob into a man of responsibility, remarrying and having another son.

For the times when his father is not able to be there to help him out, Mason Jr. experiments with sex, drugs and alcohol, but he also finds his passion in photography. His teacher wants him to capture images of things like football games, citing this kind of work as the sort that will allow him to turn his craft into a career. Mason finds his artistic shots more meaningful, and as a result more personally satisfying. Mason enters into a relationship with a girl named Sheena, and the next two years they spend together have a profound affect upon him, which makes their ugly breakup (Is there really any other kind?!) all the more painful for him. Once again, his dad is there to brighten his spirits and offer advice. Signifying that the passage of time has snuck up on everyone, Mason Jr.’s graduation from high school catches everyone by surprise, especially his mother, who thought herself prepared for this moment yet had always believed there would be more time.

To declare “Boyhood” a unique viewing experience is to state the obvious. Because the movie is filmed over the course of twelve years, and no attempt was made to hire different actors to play the same characters at different ages, you are literally watching Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater (the director’s daughter) grow up right before your eyes. The project was begun without a completed script, and actors Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke were able to make contributions by drawing from their own personal histories. There is something of Arquette in Olivia, and something of Hawke in Mason Sr. Some of my favorite moments of the film occur during the scenes of bonding between Mason Sr. and his children, such as the time when, upon Mason Jr.’s 15th birthday, his father presents him with a 3-disc mix CD of ex-Beatles’ solo tunes, arranged together to resemble another Beatles record. Mason Sr. calls this “The Black Album.” Also amusing is Mason Sr.’s observation that there can’t be any new “Star Wars” movies that take place after “Return of the Jedi,” because there’s no story left to tell. Not so fast, Mason Sr.! “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” is due in theaters this Christmas.

At 165 minutes, I can see where some might make the mistake of considering “Boyhood” a tedious film. I have two answers to that: 1) Time is relative. 2) Speaking from experience, and keeping answer #1 in mind, it seems to me that the period of ages 6 to 18 sees time moving by the slowest. That is why it is essential that “Boyhood” be as long as it needs to be. The narrative is non-traditional as well. Instead of one, long flowing story arc, “Boyhood” plays out like a collected series of happenings. Such is the nature of life itself.

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