Like my fellow blogger and friend Alex Withrow likes to say he wants to watch a movie and be able to say to himself “Someone gets it”. Richard Linklater and company get it.12 years, one family, four actors, one of the most ambitious film projects in history and one awe-inspiring experience to behold. Shot over the most impressionable young years from the carefree days of grade school to angst-filled High School Graduation Richard Linklater filmed the same kid and actors as his family, all growing-up and aging together through his formative years that is boyhood.
Michael Apt’s The Up Series and Steven James Hoop Dreams are some examples of film capturing kids growing-up in Documentary form, chronicling the high and lows of life from real people. To a certain extent The Harry Potter Series and Linklater’s own Before Trilogy have captured people growing up in real-time but in dramatized form. So, there has been precedence for this kind of idea for a film, but it has never been executed this well to this level of emotional catharsis. I don’t just have a deep admiration, appreciation or fondness for movies like this; I’m indebted to them in ways that I can hardly express.
Most filmmakers in creating a project that deals with coming-of-age such as this glance over the small eccentricities of life, the minutia in order to better fluidly pace their stories. Here with Boyhood the minutia is everything; in the pacing, in the acting, in the directing. Those days spent merely shooting the breeze with friends, arguing with your sister over who “started it” and mom to clean up your room and doing your homework, getting into trouble for breaking curfew, and changing hair-styles are all part of growing-up just as much as moving from one home to another, having to deal with an alcoholic step-dad and discovering love for the first time. These are all parts of the dense tapestry that is coming-of-age.
Through it all we have newcomer Ellar Coltrane as Mason, who is an absolute natural at every single age, servicing as our audience surrogate. Both the actor and Mason are five years younger than myself, so I see so much of his journey as my own story and many others will relate to it as well. I had similar friends growing up, I had a traumatic family move, I was the outsider who could never quite find a clique etc. We all have those follies of youth, regrets that make us want a do-over and Mason serves as a sort-of younger brother or even son to some that keep making us hope he doesn’t make our mistakes, doesn’t fall into the traps that life puts in front of us. Don’t be as stupid as us kid, be better.
But it is those pitfalls, mistakes and bad choices that make up who we are, right at this moment. We learned from our mistakes, we know all about the potholes in the narrow road, and we now know about the obstacles that we can face. We are the sum total of our experiences, not just the good and respectable stuff. Regret is learned behavior, afterall.
Before getting to the cast that perfectly embodies a family through the years, I would like to single out longtime Linklater editor Sandra Adair for perfectly, perfectly, pacing growing-up that makes the film absolutely fly-by. Just like looking back at childhood, it’s all over so fast, it’s all over before you’ll ever realize. Give Adair all the awards she is nominated for in the near future.
Lorelei Linklater, (Richard’s daughter, making this a family affair for the filmmaker in more ways than one) Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke all age together along side Mason in order to empirically show that it does indeed take a village to raise a child. Arquette as Olivia is especially given much of the emotional heft as the single mother raising two kids though several bad relationships and building a satisfying career for herself. Hawke plays Mason Sr. as the divorcee trying to stay in touch with his kids after being away for awhile, and whose arc is as resonating as his son’s by film’s end. Linklater plays Mason’s precocious older sister Olivia performing growing-up just as naturally as her on-screen brother. Rest assured, there is a part of Boyhood that you’ll be able to relate to, if not all of it.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a little story at my screening, where Patricia Arquette and Ellar Coltrane were present afterwards for a Q and A, it was as much a jolt of an experience as I’ve ever had. Having essentially lived with their on-screen characters for 12 years and peered into their life as a family together, it was a pretty stunningly jarring effect seeing them talk about the behind-the-scenes in front of us. At the end of the Q and A session I had to go up to the two to thank them in person for their work. Now, I don’t get star struck, celebrities are just people after all, but this was different. These two had helped make something that had profoundly touched me, it was like having a quasi-religious experience. I didn’t think they would stay for very long and I would never get the chance anyway, but they did.
They actually stayed to talk and shoot the breeze with the few of us that stayed around, to even take pictures with them and whatnot. I shook Ellar’s hand and was able to tell him something like “You’ve made something, that’ll touch a lot of people, man!” he thanked me and signed my Boyhood poster with himself 12 years ago starring up at the sky, day-dreaming of the life that was about to unfold for him and us on-screen. He interestingly signed it “Thanks for waiting, Jeff”, I guess probably referring to the lengthy running-time. No, Ellar I don’t just wait through film’s like this, I experience them.