Greg, we just saw a summer film that is about as different from any other summer movie as we’ve ever seen.
Boyhood was made over 12 years with all the same actors. Let’s recap…
The year is 2002 and we meet the Evans family. The head of the family is the mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), who has an 8-year-old daughter Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and a 6-year-old son named Mason, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane). The movie shows us Olivia’s tumultuous relationship with her boyfriend, Mason, Sr. (Ethan Hawke). Olivia decides to do something about her low-paying job. She moves the family to Houston, Texas, where she will pursue a degree in psychology. This move will jumpstart her career and allow her to better provide for her family.
Boyhood follows young Mason from age 6 to 18 in twelve vignettes depicting his life as he grows from boyhood to young manhood. This is not a conventional story. There is no “aha moment” where Mason makes the transition from boy to man. There is no “main goal” for Mason to attempt to acquire. This is the deliberate telling of a young man’s life as a series of moments in time.
Strangely, Boyhood is a sort of period piece as it chronicles what it is like to be a boy in each of the 12 years the movie was filmed. We’re shown the elements of Mason’s life that were important at that time. For example, Mason graduates from watching Dragonball-Z to playing Gameboy to playing with a Playstation. Normally a filmmaker would have to dig around in the archives of some movie production house for these time-sensitive relics. But for director Richard Linklater, he was simply documenting what was happening at the time he was filming a particular chapter in Mason’s life.
Greg, this is a movie that requires patience. There aren’t many fascinating moments in this film, and in fact most scenes depict the many mundane details of human life. But that’s one of the main points of Boyhood. A person’ life is an accumulation of many such moments. And we learn that some of life’s moments may seem mundane at the time but later carry great significance. These moments pave the way from boyhood to adulthood.
For example, there is one telling scene in which Mason at age 13 is hanging out with a friend and a few older boys at a construction site. The older boys are full of bravado about women and drugs, taunting and daring Mason and his friend to partake in their debauchery. The tension in the scene is magnified by them all taking turns violently tossing a blade saw onto a wood plank. Experiences like this are a right of passage for all young men as they test their mettle against society’s constraints as well as their own fears. This is Boyhood at its finest.
It’s hard to say there are any real villains in this story. Although Mason’s mother has a tendency to pick drunk, abusive men for husbands. Mason’s stepfathers start out nice enough but fall into the “a**hole” zone pretty quickly.
I have to say that as a one-off movie this is a pretty neat novelty act. Getting a group of actors to regroup year after year to perform scenes together is a logistical marvel. But as a complete story, it leaves something to be desired. Boyhood has its place in cinema history, but its message that life is a series of moments took a long time (nearly 3 hours) to tell. Watching the young man transform from a boy to a man was entertaining, yet I can’t help but get a feeling of watching home movies rather than a coherent story.
As a family hero ensemble, several themes emerge that are central to their journey. One theme is the importance of redemption in family life. The father, Mason, Sr., is mostly a ne’er-do-well with an almost debilitating immaturity problem. As the years go by, we are surprised by his growing sense of responsibility as a father and later as a husband to his next wife. Similarly, Olivia takes charge of her life and assumes a responsible position as a college professor. Throughout the movie every adult figure seems to be imploring Mason, Jr., to become more responsible, but of course we witness him learning responsibility the hard way, like all of us do, through a series of mistakes. Boyhood excels in showing us how redemption and responsibility unfold in life.
Alcoholism is a primary villain in this story. The jerks in this story are afflicted with this addiction and behave atrociously toward our family of heroes. One scene in particular is difficult to watch, as it involves Professor Bill (Marco Perella) behaving abusively while in a drunken rage toward everyone at the dinner table. While we see redemption in many forms in this movie, we never get the sense that anyone overcomes alcoholism. This is a sad lesson of the movie albeit not an unrealistic one.
I enjoyed Boyhood but I won’t be rushing back to the theater to see it again. It was long and for me held little message. It’s an unusual story as it doesn’t follow the usual pattern. Which is a refreshing change of pace. Still, I think it is the novelty of this approach to storytelling that is the appeal, and not the story itself. I give Boyhood 4 out of 5 Reels.
Mason ends up surprisingly well-adjusted after living a life with a variety of fathers and homes. He’s a bit of a zen buddhist in his attitudes toward life. Despite all the advice to be responsible, he is in fact among the most responsible people in the movie. He settles on photography as a passion and has little interest in his scholastic assignments – yet he goes to college to study art. He’s very much an ordinary young man by the end of the story. His arc is a long one and comes to a nice completion point. I give Mason 4 out of 5 Heroes.
The villains in the story are of the type we might encounter every day. As Scott points out, the men in the story give Mason little guidance and a lot of reasons to become a problem child. Still Mason overcomes these villains. Unlike most of the villains we see in the movies, these villains are not complicated puppeteers. And they’re not intrinsically bad. We get some background to them and we see where their villainy comes from. I give them 4 out of 5 Villains.
Boyhood is a remarkable cinematic achievement for the way it patiently portrays a family’s dramatic story unfold over the course of a dozen years. There are no cheap thrills, fancy CGI effects, or scintillating costuming here. There are only real emotions, real family crises, real tears, and moving moments of redemption. We see not just a boy grow up but an entire family, leading me to wonder why this movie isn’t called Family or Familyhood. I admired this film greatly and give it 4 Reels out of 5.
The heroes were an impressive group of people who took punches, rolled with them, grew nicely, and became better people as the result of their heartaches. There is plenty of growth, mentoring, loving, crying, mending, and healing. In short, Boyhood has just about every aspect of the hero’s journey, and each aspect is depicted with searing realism. I believe these heroes deserve 5 Heroes out of 5.
There are a few detestable people that our heroes must navigate through on their journey, and the worst of the characters are afflicted with alcoholism. Boyhood’s depiction of alcoholism is a by-the-numbers stereotype of the disease and offered an incomplete view of its progression. The addiction and its effect on the men in Olivia’s life could have been fleshed out, and as a result I can only award this movie 3 Villains out of 5.