All too many times Hollywood uses the phrase “Once in a Lifetime” to describe a film that we’ve encountered way too many times before, but finally, a director and film studio have come thru and brought us a film like nothing we’ve ever seen before. Boyhood is that film and it just might be the best movie you will see all year. Directed by industry legend Richard Linklater, the film is a true labor of love. The film, shot intermittently over a twelve-year period, follows a young boy named Mason through his childhood from first grade (age 6) thru his high school graduation (age 18). It’s a documented journey that will most likely never be duplicated in our lifetime and one that will resonate with each viewer for decades to come.
We meet Mason Jr (Coltrane) at age 6, laying in the grass, pondering the days lesson from first grade, the beauty of a child discovering the world and the wonderful knowledge that will embrace him along the way. Mason lives with his sister Samantha (Linklater) and his single mom Olivia (Arquette) in a small town in East Texas. Mason is your average young boy, spending his days riding his bike, playing with his friends and fighting with his sister, but a decision by his mother to uproot the children and move to Houston so she can attend college to get her degree, offers Mason his first true challenge in his young life. As they pack up the house and get ready for the move, Mason is tasked with painting over the mural on his wall and the pencil marks on the door frame which have measured the growth of him and his sister from infancy until now. A symbolic gesture that the film will now take the place of those pencil marks and will chart his growth for all of us to witness.
Showing the true innocence of a child, Mason’s biggest concern is whether his father, Mason Sr. (Hawke) will be able to find them in Houston. Mason Sr. has been missing from the children’s lives for a little over a year and with little communication. As the move is completed and the family settles into their new hometown, Mason Sr. arrives in Houston to reconnect with his children and make up for lost time. Mason wants to know if his parents are going to get back together and will his dad be moving back in, a question that any young child in Mason’s position would ponder, but its a question easier to ask than to answer. The dynamics of these and other relationships will play out in great detail through vignettes along the way.
Throughout the coming years, director Linklater shows us the transitions of not only Mason but of the family as a whole. Each year brings not only new challenges, but also offers a new perspective on the evolution of each character. From the the changing landscape of American pop culture to the different physical change that manifests in each character; the audience is provided a valuable look into the maturation of Mason and the relationships around him. But Linklater doesn’t allow drama to engulf his vision. He has chosen to allow Mason’s childhood play out as authentically as possible, allowing for the actors to grow naturally with each new year and maximizing their new inherent personality to shine through his well thought out script. By the time Mason begins year 15, his sense of self begins to take shape and discovering the world not through a child’s eyes, but through the eye’s of a young man in search of life’s purpose and his place in the world.
The evolution of a child’s journey to manhood may never be captured with such detail again. Boyhood truly is that once in a lifetime opportunity. Ellar Coltrane is absolutely astonishing as Mason Jr. To watch this young man grow up before our eyes is a true honor. Every single detailed change throughout this young life is presented in such a way that you almost feel like part of the family. Coltrane is given time through the years to hone his craft as a screen actor and by the time we receive the teenage Mason, we are presented with a performance that expresses the personal philosophy of a young man searching to understand his purpose. No doubt the same journey young Coltrane is on. Lorelei Linklater, daughter of the director, has grown up around the set and has honed her craft at an early age. Her journey is much different than Coltrane’s but her performance is just as captivating. The sibling dynamic plays out perfectly between the two actors.
Linklater veterans Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette provide truly sensational performances as the parents struggling to find their way in life. Watching the journey of Mason Sr. is as important to the overall story and works as a perfect companion to Mason Jr’s story. Hawke embodies his characters quirks and his attempts to raise the children through his vision of the world are thought-provoking. I will never forget the wise wisdom of Mason Sr as he uttered “You don’t need the bumpers, life doesn’t give you bumpers”. Patricia Arquette turns in the performance of her career. Her performance of a young, single mother looking to better herself and her children is heart breaking and beautifully portrayed. Watching the maturation of Olivia allows audiences to understand the true weight that raising two children as a single mom can take on a woman’s psyche. Watching her final scenes’s with Coltrane were emotionally charged as you could feel that not only the character, but the actor had taken this journey and it’s conclusion truly took its toll.
At the conclusion of the film I thought to myself, “have I ever experienced anything like this in my life?”, the truth is, yes I have. I was reminded of my own childhood and that of my young nephew Joey whom is on the same journey as Mason’s. I have sporadic memories of my childhood as the years have taken many from me, but Joey’s development is still very fresh in my mind. This emotionally connected me to this film in a different way. I cannot say that this film will touch you emotionally as it did me, but I can say that Boyhood is an exceptional movie that demands to be seen. Each audience member will take away something different from their experience, but my hope is each will be offered a sense of nostalgia that will resonate for years to come.
5 out of 5
After credit scene?