BOYHOOD. Starring Eller Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke. Directed by Richard Linklater. 164 minutes. Rated M (Violence and coarse language).
Boyhood has become famous because of its making, a process of 12 years, persevering with cast and the changes in their lives.
Writer-director, Richard Linklater, greatly admired for his series of Before, Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight, and a career which has mixed documentaries with feature films, decided in 2002 that he would like to make a film about a young boy and trace his growth over 12 years from 6 to 18. He and his cast and his crew spent a week every year adding to the film, developing the story, exploring the characters, changing the development of the plot according to some aspects of the boy’s life. A reviewer reported that she had taken a friend to see Boyhood and that the friend was very impressed and asked how many actors had played the part of the boy. In fact, it is the same boy, Ellar Coltrane, developing his fictional life story over the 12 years.
As with so many of the other of Richard Linklater’s films, this is a Texas story. It captures the atmosphere of Texas, making the film a piece of contemporary Americana.
At the opening of the film, the boy, Mason Jr, is a friendly and likeable young lad. He lives with his mother, Grace, played by Patricia Arquette, a mother who makes bad choices in husbands and partners as is seen over the years. She has been married to Mason, again played over the years by Ethan Hawke, a frequent collaborator with Linklater, but they are separated, he wanting to travel and move around, still with some adolescent tendencies which make it difficult to relate to his son, even though he loves him.
As the years go on, Mason turns up at various times to see his son, take him out, trying to build a relationship with him. Mason Jr is not unwilling. And his mother, liking Mason, allows him to be with their son even though she is frequently exasperated with him. Mason Jr has a sister. She is played by Linklater’s own daughter, Lorelei, who also changes substantially over the years, finally asserting herself in her adolescent years.
The family experiences a number of difficulties, especially when the mother marries a man who seems genial, lectures at college where she attends his courses, marries him and brings her two children to blend with his children from a previous marriage. All seems well until, as happens in so many of these marriages, he starts to be demanding, bullying, and is a drinker. While Mason and Lorelei have got on well with the other children, they have to get away suddenly and lose these bonds. Grace tries another marriage with a war veteran but the war has influenced his mental condition and his ability to relate to people.
However, the fascination of the film is to watch Ellar Coltrane, over the 12 years, as a little boy, growing up in school, his friends, clashes, the way that he has to fit into new families, the visits from his father, clashes with his mother despite his love for her, and into his adolescence in school. The film is rather reticent about his growth in his sexuality though he has girlfriends. Like so many of the young men of his time, he experiments with drugs, clashes with his family, wants to move out, has to plan his education – while discovering that he has a talent for photography. All in all, the processing progress of the story depends on a great deal of detail in the characters’ lives.
While some people have claimed Boyhood is something of a masterpiece, Linklater winning the prize for Best Director at the Berlin Film Festival of 2014, others have wondered because they think that nothing really happens, little action and slow-moving. But this seems to underestimate the power of ordinary life, developments and challenges of a young boy and his moving into adolescence, the importance of family, finding one’s place in family, relating to parents, dependence and the move to independence and forming an individual character.
The film offers a fine opportunity for audiences, in a film running over 2 ½ hours, to watch human nature action and reflect.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out September 4, 2014.