Movie Review: Boyhood
I know there have been a lot of people who liked my World Cup blogs but there are still some who feel like saying: “Jon, when’s your next movie review?” For those wondering about that, yes I have been watching movies over the summer and I have a few reviews to share. To start with, I’ll do Boyhood: a good choice for those who want something different.
The movie starts with six year-old Mason Evans Jr., a boy growing up in a small Texas town who’s more interested in nature and collecting arrowheads than playing football. He lives with his slightly older sister Samantha, single mother Olivia and her boyfriend. Things are not the best as Mason has to share a bedroom with his sister and that causes typical brother-sister issues. Then it changes one day after an argument with Olivia and her boyfriend which she claims she has no free time. She moves to Houston with the children. This causes concern for mason wondering if he’ll ever see his father again.
Life in Houston starts to work out fine for Mason and the family. Olivia is able to attend classes at the University of Houston while Mason and Samantha attend school. They’re able to meet up with their father Mason Sr. but it’s not so frequent. Even as Mason Sr. drops the kids off, friction between him and Olivia come back. In the meantime, Olivia meets up with Professor Bill Welbrock. He appears to be a good man with a head on his shoulders and even takes a liking to Mason, willing to introduce him to his own son Randy who’s a similar like. The two marry and his children Mindy and Randy move in together. The family appears close knit as the stepsiblings have fun together and Bill appears to be the ideal husband. However things turn for the worse as Bill develops a drinking problem he first tries to keep secret only to have it exposed as he becomes abusive to Olivia and the children, even forcing Mason Jr. to get his head shaved. Olivia immediately leaves the household taking Mason and Sam with her.
The three find a new life in a town close to Austin. Olivia becomes a psychology teacher and falls in love with one of her students Jim who’s a former Afghanistan War veteran whom she eventually marries. Mason Sr. has married and has become a father to a newborn. In the meantime, Samantha and Mason Jr begin social interaction of their own as they make friend and start dating. However Mason’s drinking and earrings have gotten on the nerve of a visibly drunken Jim. Not surprisingly Olivia divorces him.
In the meantime Mason has a girlfriend named Sheena, works part-time at a seafood restaurant and has developed a passion for photography. His work in taking pictures and developing in the darkroom inspires him to be an artistic photographer. However it doesn’t sit well with his teacher because he knows how competitive of a field photography is and how gimmicks are easier moneymakers than art. The teacher then makes Mason photographer for the football team.
Grade 12 is a life changing year for Mason Jr. Sam has moved onto college but she does allow Mason and Sheena to ‘visit.’ Sheena soon breaks up with Mason for a boy on the high school lacrosse team. Mason also wins second prize in a photography contest and receives scholarship money. His graduation is celebrated with family and others close in his life like his teacher and his boss at the restaurant. Going to college is the next chapter in Mason’s life. However it’s not without heartache as his mother finds it hard both her children have moved out and wonders of her own life. The film ends with Mason attending college, becoming friends with his roommate and being introduced to his roommate’s girlfriend’s best friend who shares a lot of common interests and common dreams with Mason.
Now this is something. Director Richard Linklater tells a story of Mason Jr. over the years and the people around him. He uses all the same actors, no replacements. This was very chancy because a lot can change over a period of twelve years. It’s possible Ellar could have gotten tired of acting and wanted nothing to do with it anymore within that time. It’s even possible one of the actors in one of the main roles could have died. Any one of them. But it worked. And it wasn’t just simply the technical bits. It was also a story about a boy whose life over the years catches our intrigue. We’re astonished to see Mason Jr. (or should I say Ellar?) grow over a twelve year span. We also see the lives of his mother, father and Sam pave their way too. All those who were part of the film and its ‘aging process’ contributed significantly. Also as it progresses over the time, Linklater doesn’t leave anything out as far as aging goes. He doesn’t get the adult actors to hide their facial aging. He doesn’t replace the child actors if any one of them go through the ‘awkward stage’ or get braces. He keeps it all as is. That’s another quality.
The thing is the film doesn’t really tell the typical story that has a beginning, middle and end. Rather it tries to paint a portrait of Mason Jr. growing up over the years and of the boy he was and would grow up to be. It’s not too thick on a plot but rather lets time unravel itself and tell the story as it goes along. Almost like childhood through Mason Jr’s eyes. It’s common with Richard Linklater’s movies that they’re not too heavy on the plot and give more of an atmosphere. Another thing this film can do is remind audience members of their own childhood growing up. It may tell a story of a boy who’s not into sports and more of a dreamer but I’m sure there are some parts of Mason’s childhood that will remind them of their own.
Another additional element that adds to the film are the surrounding scenes that add to the atmosphere. Linklater has done that in past films where he would show elements in the film that would actually add to it. We see it here too with Sam’s like of popular culture from Britney Spears to High School Musical to Lady Gaga. We see it in the computer technology as the cast go from Apple computers with big box screens to iPhones. We see it in Mason Jr. growing up in highly conservative Texas and the values the state tries to instill with the people and through the schools. We also see it in how it with Mason Sr. being a liberal Democrat in a state that has a lot of staunch conservatives. We also see it with scenes with other artistically-minded people in the film. It all adds to it.
This film also adds to a common theme of Richard Linklater’s movies. Linklater has never been one to dwell into the typical Hollywood fanfare. He’s always been one to do his movies his way. His movies have featured people pursue their passion and even dream out loud. He often focuses on the visionaries and the inspired ones and he presents them as the ones to be admired. I think that’s why he has such a following with Generation X. We can see that in Mason Jr. He falls in love with photography and wants it to be his life passion. The problem is those around him don’t think highly of his choice. The teachers question it and whether it’s a career choice that will allow for a decent living. His father wonders why he doesn’t pursue something that ‘wins chicks.’ His girlfriend drops him for a jock because it doesn’t make him look cool enough. And his friends razz him about it. But it’s his passion. I think that’s what Linklater is showing. About how passion is what matters. Especially for a boy like Mason.
Without a doubt, this is an accomplishment from Linklater. It was a unique idea from him that was creative but risky and it paid off very well. However this is also an accomplishment from actor Ellar Coltrane. It was not an easy job to play the same role over twelve years of filming. Nevertheless he did an excellent job in the role. It wasn’t so much a role filled with emotional range or drama but rather a role that required the actor to grow along with the role and have the personality of the dreamer Linklater intended to have as the central protagonist. Much of it was natural personality but a lot of it was maturity over age. And Ellar did it. Very excellent.
Patricia Arquette was also very good as the mother almost to the point it appeared she stole the movie. The movie was also about the mother over the years improving her life, raising her two children and falling into two marriages that appeared right at the time but would soon make a turn for the worse. Her struggles added to the story not just to add to Mason Jr’s story but to also mix it in as her own story too. Ethan Hawke was also good as the father who makes the annual visit. He too shows maturity over the years but his overall role was not as challenging as his past roles. Lorelei Linklater was also very good. She may have been cast as Sam simply because she’s Richard Linklater’s daughter–much the same way Ethan was cast because of working in his Before Sunrise series– but she wasn’t just simply there. She was given a role too that involved her to grow along with Ellar and also portray Sam as this sister who was liked pop culture, had her own individual style, had ambitions of her own and was a typical older sister in both the fun times and the bad times with Mason.
One thing to note as well. It has been noticed in the last few years the lack of buzz alternative or independent cinema has had over the years. There hasn’t as big of a phenomenon from Sundance or any other film festival promoting independent film in the last while. I don’t know if Boyhood would qualify as a phenomenon but it is one film that has gotten bigger notice over time and has grown with the buzz. It currently has made $22 million in the US and $37 million worldwide. It has also received a lot of critical admiration and a lot of praise for its uniqueness. Definitely a big boost for independent cinema this year.
Boyhood is one of those summer movies one who wants to get off the beaten path of your typical summer movie fanfare would want to see. It’s definitely worth it.