12 Years in the Making

Director Richard Linklater’s new film Boyhood is a movie twelve years in the making… literally.  The movie began filming in 2002 and finally wrapped in 2013.  A combination of narrative and experimental filmmaking, the movie follows its central characters over that same time period as the actors continue to age realistically.  It is a fascinating idea that works on the experimental level, but that just fails to pack enough drama to fill its 165-minute narrative.

The boy of the title is Mason, the child of a broken home who lives with his mother and spends the occasional weekend or afternoon with his father.  The movie follows him as he advances from grammar school to college, experiencing many of the experiences most boys go through during that time.  We see him discover the female form with his childhood friends, be introduced to drugs and alcohol through his teenage friends (and step-fathers), and become a talented photographer as he prepares to move on to college and adulthood. Through Mason’s eyes, the audience also sees the growth of his older sister, the progress made by his laid-back father, and the emotional weight felt by the mother who did her best to raise her kids despite her poor taste in male role models for them.

Mason is played by newcomer Ellar Coltrane, who has been working consistently for twelve years and now finally has something to show for it.  Coltrane is good in the movie, but the character does come off as something like a blank slate.  He is merely an observer to most of the major events that take place in the movie.  He’s left to react, but he does not do much reacting, at least not for the majority of the film.  It is not until the last act that we really begin to see the character that Mason has developed into, as he shares his often profound thoughts in speeches that sound similar to those that punctuate Linklater’s Before Sunrise trilogy.

Ethan Hawke as Dad in BoyhoodFor much of the film, the most entertaining scenes are those involving Ethan Hawke as Mason’s father.  This makes sense in the context of the story.  Hawke’s character—listed in the credits simply as “Dad”—is the one who takes Mason and his sister on fun weekend excursions and takes them bowling in the afternoon.  The serious scenes are with Mom, played by Patricia Arquette, as she tries courageously to teach her kids to make good decisions even while making some poor ones herself.  Her efforts to keep her children in something resembling a traditional family often end with disastrous results.  It felt like Mason would eventually need to confront one of his abusive step-fathers as part of his growing up process, but that confrontation never really materializes.

Along with being a document of a young boy’s life, Boyhood also documents the changes in technology, music, politics, and world affairs over the past twelve years.  Often, the audience will be able to figure out which year it is by the song playing on the soundtrack or the type of cell phone the characters are using.  The occasional news clip give us an idea of what was going on in the world at any given time in the story and we see Roger Clemens pitching for the Houston Astros sometime before his career became tainted by the steroids scandal.  And yes, only a few years ago, none of us thought that any Star Wars movies to take place after the original trilogy would ever get made.

Boyhood has its share of moments; some humorous, some heartfelt, others contemplative.  However, these moments are spread thin throughout the movie’s lengthy running time.  It would have been nice to see Mason be more active within his own life story, but for the most part it seems as if he is just drifting through it.  Definitely a fascinating experiment, Boyhood is certainly worth watching, but as an entertainment, it does not quite grow to its potential.

Boyhood is rated R for “language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use.”  The R rating caught me by surprise, as it felt that it could possibly have gotten away with a PG-13 rating.  There are definitely some sex, drugs, and alcohol references always involving minors, though, so it is probably best for the rating board to err on the R side.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Boyhood.