Actually, the dates that should be in parentheses up there are (2002-2013). That’s when it was filmed. This is one of the most remarkable films ever made if only for that reason. We see the entire cast age over a twelve-year period. With the adults there’s obviously not a lot of change. With the kids … the boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), is six when they started filming, eighteen when they finished. This dude changes a lot. The girl (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter) is supposed to be a few years older, but was actually almost the same age, just bigger than her “brother.” The rest of the main cast is Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. (Hawke was designated to take over the director’s chair if Linklater died.) The movie was made in ten-to-fifteen-minute segments, once every year, for not much money, and then cut down to two hours and forty-five minutes.
So that’s the set-up. What I wanted to know is was this something worth doing, or just a stunt?
Well, there’s nothing here that looks like a stunt. Since there is no ONE YEAR LATER type thing on the screen to warn us between segments, it runs along smoothly, seamlessly, and then you notice the shape of his face has changed a little, and her hair is a lot longer and she’s dyed it bright red. She is off to college at UT Austin. He’s old enough to experiment with beer and smoking dope. And then he’s off to college, this kid who we have seen growing up, from fighting with his sister in the back seat to this quiet, contemplative, budding artist at Big Bend National Park with some new friends, on a mild acid or Ecstasy trip. (The whole movie was shot in Texas: Houston, San Marcos, Terlingua, Johnson City, Austin.)
The movie scored a rare 100% at Rotten Tomatoes. There were a few more dissenters among the audience comments, and they almost all boiled down to “It was boring, nothing happened.” Well, you guys need to just go back to watching your superhero movies, where lots of stuff happens, none of it having anything to do with real life. Because that is what happens here, that is what you’re missing: Life itself. Sure, since they’re making it all up as they go along, since these people are acting, they could have written in a bad car wreck, a home invasion burglary, an act of terrorism at the mall, a force five tornado. Instead, the scariest scene involves an out-of-control alcoholic martinet of a stepfather finally losing it and throwing things. Which, when you think about it, is the single scariest thing that happens in some people’s childhoods. Mom works hard at bettering herself, she loves her kids, but her big flaw is bad judgement when it comes to men. She is already divorced from Ethan when we begin, and then goes through two more bad marriages. Ironically, Ethan turns out to be the best father they had, though the two never get back together.
That’s the large crisis. The rest of the movie is the small crises most of us are familiar with, and the gradual growing apart we all remember. The stresses and strains of living with other family members. All in all, Mason has a pretty good boyhood. He’s as prepared to step out into the larger, adult life as any of us ever are.
As I write this, Boyhood was nominated for six Oscars a few days ago, including Best Picture. Right now it is the favorite to win. I haven’t seen but one of the other nominated movies (The Grand Budapest Hotel) so I can’t really judge, but if this won it would be a worthy winner. And to tell the truth, I don’t really expect any of the others to be as good. I want a Best Picture winner to show me something new, something I’ve never seen, and this one certainly delivers.