Sunday, August 3, 2014

When the Moment Seizes You: Boyhood

Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s epic portrait of a boy’s life from age 6 to age 18, was filmed over a twelve-year period with Ellar Coltrane playing Mason, Jr., as the boy, while Ethan Hawke and Praticia Arquette play his divorced parents and Loralei Linklater plays his sister. As these performers age over the 12 years of filming, they play out a simple drama about everyday life. Mason Jr. wonders about the world, makes friends, submits to temptations, develops a passion for photography, has a high school girl-friend, breaks up, and goes off to college, all the while questioning the meaning of life and looking for his place in the world. What’s it all for? Meanwhile, his mother struggles as a single mother trying to get an education to get a better job; she also gets into, and out of, two bad marriages with alcoholic, abusive individuals. The boy’s father, Mason, Sr., played by Ethan Hawke, is a wandering free spirit, also looking for his place in the world. Though Hawke has played a similar sort of character in the Before Sunrse trilogy, he develops his character substantially over the twelve years of filming, and at times Hawke unifies a film with very little, if any, pervading conflict.

At times a little stilted and aimless, the film very effectively presents life’s mundane moments and real dramas, both painful and touching. Some of the film’s moments are so naturalistically depicted that, for example, you can smell the fried food in the restaurant kitchen where Mason Jr. flirts with a co-worker or feel the Texas sun on your back when the boy and his father take a dip in the water on a camping trip. The long tracking shot down an alleyway when Mason Jr. talks to a gossipy school girl as he walks next to her on her bicycle is sharply realistic and suggests the countless moments like this that make up a childhood.

Although not as expansive or awe-inspiring as The Tree of Life, another vivid depiction of growing up in a Texas town, Boyhood is awesome in its scope as it takes you convincingly from the moment when a young boy lies on his back and wonders about the universe to the moment when he goes on a hike with new college friends and wonders about a possible future with someone he seems to connect with. The film stresses the importance of each moment in life, and within its 165-minute length, it covers many of those moments in a twelve-year span with an honest minimalism.


Steve's Blog said...

A nice end of the movie-going year from Japan with a viewing of Boyhood. I am very much in cahoots with your review, and I, too, found it a bit "stilted" and forced at times, especially for a film so self-aware of its naturalness. Particularly, the opening scenes did not ring true for me and I thought Linklater did not have a firm handle of where he wanted this whole thing to go and the child actors seemed like, well, child actors. Ethan Hawke does hold it together well and Patricia Arquette gets stronger as the film progresses, as does the boy. The film finds its stride for me when he enters his teens and the drunken second husband is removed from the story. Again, the presence of such a dramatic character seemed in contrast with the little moments the film was about. And indeed, these little moments rang most true and I was moved throughout much of the film, especially the ending.

I must confess that I like the Before Sunrise trilogy more. Though it, too, rings truer with each subsequent film. It is as though Linklater understands his subject better as he allows time to shape their stories. And this is not a bad thing.

On that note, I wish you happy holiday film-going and the very best for a healthy and happy 2015 for you and yours! Miss you!

Hokahey said...

Steve - Thanks! There are definitely some real moments depicted in this film, but I'm with you - I liked the Before Sunrise trilogy better. Still, it's nice that a film like Boyhood can be nominated for the Golden Globes - and most likely for the Oscars. The lack of glitzy competition is a good thing in that sense. The bad side is that it has been a lackluster movie year. I have been underwhelmed by many of the promising releases: Birdman, Wild, Unbroken. I loved Interstellar but beyond that there was nothing much that was very compelling or powerful - though Gyllenhaal's performance in Nightcrawler is a very notable and compelling one.

Happy New Year to you and the whole family! As I know you do, I look forward to the new year in movies.