Learning to Be a Man in Linklater’s Powerful “Boyhood”

Boyhood

Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)

The story of how Richard Linklater (Dazed and ConfusedBefore Sunrise, etc.) made his new film, Boyhood, is almost more interesting than the film, itself (although the movie is quite fine), and for the full story, I direct you to the movie’s press kit. There, you will discover how Boyhood was shot over the course of 12 years, using the same actors in the same roles, allowing them to age with their characters. Since the protagonist, Mason (played by newcomer Ellar Coltrane), begins the film as a 6-year-old boy and ends it as an 18-year-old man, we see him change in ways profound and moving. While at first he is tentative and awkward (though always at ease in front of the camera), by the end of the journey (at 165 minutes, a long – but not arduous – one in cinematic terms) he has grown into a young person of singular individuality and winning charisma. For that, alone, the film is worth watching. That it is so much more than that is a tribute to Linklater’s powers as a writer and director.

Mason comes from a broken home, in which his mother (a strong Patricia Arquette) has separated from his father (Ethan Hawke, charming as always), leaving him and his older sister Samantha (Linklater’s daughter Lorelei, a perfect match for Coltrane) to deal with a succession of alcoholic step-fathers (Arquette’s mother is a good parent with bad choice in men). The film is the story of how Mason and his sister survive and prosper through a childhood that sees them relocate innumerable times. Their life is not always pretty, but it is full, and full of love and support. I found the scenes between Hawke and Coltrane to be among the most touching in the film: the absent father doing  his best to remain connected to his sensitive offspring.

The film is also an object of raw visual beauty, with stunning shots of Texas’s Big Bend National Park interspersed with more mundane shots of various Texas towns, all of it combined into a lovely tapestry of the everyday details that comprise a life lived by regular folks. As such, it is the perfect antidote to the bloated Bayhem of Transformers: Age of Extinction, and is the must-see film of the final months of summer. It opens at Baltimore’s Charles Theater today.

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