Please enjoy this vintage piece on Boyhood...
One month after its release and South Florida is still digesting Boyhood. The film is without question an innovation. Director Richard Linklater followed the same cast for a span of 12 years, which has only been explored in the documentary terrain. Understandably, this format lends itself more to Boyhood’s lengthy chronological journey in time, so Linklater has earned himself widespread critical appraisal for his cinematic breakthrough. The herculean effort did not go unnoticed, however, its universal praise may be a hindrance to its audience’s expectation.
I couldn’t help but leave the theater underwhelmed. Boyhood offered the promise of connecting us all by our shared experiences through the eyes of its protagonist. And yet, I’m not sure it does that. Our boy Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, portrays a typical Texas kid’s experience growing up, but while there were certainly universal moments and relatable milestones, it was tough to completely connect with him. What happens then when you cannot fully embrace Boyhood’s Boy?
The answer is I’m not sure. As a woman, I looked to the film’s female characters to fill this gap, admittedly a personal sentiment as many did connect with Mason. This was probably the biggest disappointment. The leading ladies begin the film’s life strong and vibrant, and somewhere in between Mason’s 56th haircut, they become muffled background noise. Mason’s mother, beautifully portrayed by Patricia Arquette, is a subtly strong matriarch. While she stumbles through life, as all the characters do, she remains an anchor. However, somewhere midway through husband number three she loses the strength she regained by going back to school and pursuing her dream of becoming a professor. Her role is overshadowed beyond that point by debt and poor relationship choices. Similarly, Mason’s sister played by Linklater’s daughter, Lorelai Linklater, is a captivating presence at the start. She is adorable and has quite the ‘horseshit attitude’ as described by her mom. The mischievous little girl always speaking her mind and straight up bossing around the adults surrounding her becomes quiet and subdued the minute she hits puberty. The most profound reflection her character offers is to Mason’s first love on how college is so cool because of “all the cute guys."
The film’s focus seems to be on the two leading males, Mason and Mason Jr. Boyhood continuously pardons their blunders and prolonged adolescence, forgiving both parties longing for meaning much more than its female counterparts. Ethan Hawke’s portrayal of the cool, handsome and charmingly confused band guy is nothing short of breathtaking. You know he can’t hold a job and could be a better father, but you still root for him. While younger Mason doesn’t do as captivating a job, he does convey the same existential angst as Mason Sr. And while both father and son’s monologues on existence are equal parts profound as they are corny, so is life.
For its shortcomings, the film does take everyone on a journey back in time achieved with music and signature period relics, like opening song Yellow by Coldplay. Without exception, all audience members would giddily jump and point to the now ancient technology they once grew up with (old projectors, the ipod mini, etc). A true time capsule of the middle class American upbringing, Boyhood does achieve this cathartic nostalgia. This is the film’s biggest success, capturing the ordinary, flawed moments of life.
As you watch Boyhood, you don’t feel much has happened and there are often scenes that pass by when you expect some grandiose event, like a fatal car accident, to take place. But the truth is life is a string of ordinary moments that pass by all too quickly. To his credit, Linklater masterfully achieves this sentiment as most people leave the film “a little bit sad." Everyone exiting the theater seemed like they needed to go home and have a good cry. Regardless of liking the film, it does make you deeply understand the fleeting nature of time.
In this respect, it does fulfill its intent of connecting us all, just in a different way I believe Linklater intended it to. Boyhood will no doubt be one of the most celebrated, replicated and probably parodied films of this decade. For this, we tip our hat off to Linklater.