Twelve years in the making, Richard Linklater wrapped a life of a kid named Mason from age 5 to 18, all in just 165 minutes. The result is BOYHOOD, a coming-of-age so real it moves with time, becoming an experience viewers have never felt before. And as the movie goes, the characters grow up (literally). Things happen, conflicts lit, emotions involved, loves arisen. Sure, lessons are learnt, and wisdom, courage, and perspectives are created. BOYHOOD is, in two words, life itself.
No narrative plots are needed because, just like Linklater’s most famous works—BEFORE SUNRISE, BEFORE SUNSET, and recently BEFORE MIDNIGHT—you’ll mostly listen to people talking. You shape your own mood from the film. Again, it takes certain amount of attention and patience (because in the other side boredom is waiting!) but thankfully the ensemble cast is always ready to guard their stands consistently from year to year to be whoever they were supposed to be.
Except for Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, who is Richard Linklater’s daughter). Physically speaking, they grow and, speaking of personality, they evolve. Mason is the kind of average boys, you know, who loves video games, paints graffiti, or sometimes checks adult magazines with older friends from the neighborhood. Samantha is too, the kind of average girls, who might obsessed with Britney Spears that she sang “Oops, I Did It Again” with the exact ‘naughty-girl’-like dances that annoyed his brother. Their mom, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), was divorced from their dad, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke, Linklater’s regular actor). A bit of a broken family, the two kids passed their childhood moving from place to place and having new dad after another.
Really, guys, I can’t even re-tell all the story here because it will be like a part of a biography of Mason. We’re watching someone’s life here, so many things happen but not all happened things are shown. Richard Linklater focused on the growth of these kids and how parenting and social factor affect it. Boyhood and adolescence are the key. He gives us snapshots of how it is like to turn a kid into a teen in certain kinds of family. Olivia, I personally think, is not a good mom. But she’s trying tirelessly. She tries to make for a better (single) parent by going to school again, trying to find a new, better husband (which she often fails—especially when she married her teacher at college, Professor Bill, played by Marco Perella, who in the end became an alcoholic and often abusive dad), and provide for her children.
But no family is perfect, just like life itself. Olivia is no perfect mother, and while she expected to be a good role-model for her kids, more factors other than parenting affects the road the kids forced to take to reach their adolescence. Mason Sr., in the other hand, is a free guy. He didn’t have a certain job but he always spent every week to visit and take the kids to a special day just with him. They played bowling, they camped, they watched baseball, all great things that you agree children should have with their dad (and at the moment, you can’t help but thinking if you too have such great experiences with your dad back when you were a kid—throwing you to your childhood memory). Mom and dad (Mason Sr. and all the other ‘dads’), among other things, shaped Mason and Samantha’s perspectives of life. These give them clues about what they like to do in life, who they want to be, or what they want to achieve.
More than just a portrait of growing-up, BOYHOOD is also a portrait of culture. Like many other coming-of-ages, viewers outside America are given insight about what it is like to grow up in the United States. The movie gives us experience about what it is like to be a 15-year-old in the country, how the social circle is, how American parents start to talk about certain topics like sex and life struggle with their growing-up kids, and other things (because, really, parents here don’t talk about ‘contraception for safer sexual activity’ to their 15-year-old daughters). This is what keeps BOYHOOD interesting to follow, even if it is unnarrative.
Clues that the movie goes as time goes are also given using certain ‘timemarks’, like queuing for the brand new Harry Potter book, playing video games on an Xbox or a Wii, or supporting Obama over McCain. Quite nostalgic, except I don’t really feel this ‘time-capsule’ effect from the songs. I don’t know if the soundtracks are not that ‘timemarking’ or I simply wasn’t into them (I watched BEGIN AGAIN some hours ago and I could feel different effects of soundtrack use between it and BOYHOOD) but I feel like BOYHOOD would be better throwing us into nostalgic euphoria if it was more ‘musical’.
And also, I feel like the third act (if I can call it a ‘third act’) is a bit worn off. It’s when Mason turned into a teenager. I think it has something to do with him no longer be that ‘cute chubby boy with bright eyes’ (lol), but whatever the reason is, I feel like this part is less interesting than the first parts. Suddenly the film becomes less conclusive, less rounded-up. I expected that however descriptive BOYHOOD is supposed to be, given all the experience the main characters have shared with us, I think it’s a good idea to crystallize what Mason had from it, so everything becomes more ‘finished’ (although nothing will be finished). I mean, I expected more than just showing us how he becomes (how he personally evolved into) after all the growing-up years he’s been through.
But that’s where the film got its title, isn’t it? It’s about boyhood. It’s about the search of what life actually is, based on the experience—the up-and-downs—that a boy had. And this kind of search is not supposed to have a finding, because it’s a search of a lifetime. It will never end, until life itself ends. BOYHOOD, with all the efforts the filmmakers, the crew, the cast have contributed, is a total groundbreaker. (Also, kudos to the editor!). This is not something you’ll have once in a decade. BOYHOOD might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, just like your (and my) childhood.
2014 / Drama / 165 min / R
cast: Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater,
Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, et al.
written & directed by Richard Linklater