The Film: Boyhood
What’s It About? Over the course of 12 years, a young boy named Mason experiences the joys and difficulties of childhood. The child of divorced parents, both of whom are facing their own set of challenges, Mason, along with his sister Samantha, learns to navigate through a world in which the strengths and frailties of the adults around him have a profound impact on his own life.
Number of Oscar Nominations: 6
Will It Win? God, I hope so.While Ethan Hawke won’t win Best Supporting Actor, which will of course go to J.K. Simmons, he’s rather good in the role of a slightly ne’er do well father. Patricia Arquette more than deserves all the praise she is receiving for her portrayal of a single mother with disastrous taste in men, struggling to do right by her children.
As for Linklater, the feat of making the film over a twelve-year period should be an inspiration to aspiring indie filmmakers, and he obviously got very lucky in finding Eltan Coltrane (what if the kid grew up to be not such a good actor?)
Although it’s three hours long, and although it meanders along at a stately and relaxed pace, it never feels slow. And any one of the twelve years would have made an interesting short film (I wonder how much extra footage Linklater has on the cutting room floor). Sandra Adair is a strong contender for Best Editing for pulling together a narrative that seems to effortlessly move between years.
The film should win Best Picture for the simple reason that it is the outstanding film of 2014. Winning would send a message that the Academy really does care about no-budget independent projects. Linklater probably won’t win Best Director (Innaritu will for Birdman) and although his script is certainly Oscar-worthy, Wes Anderson’s screenplay for The Grand Budapest Hotel is also deserving.
It isn’t a mystery why everyone is falling over themselves praising Boyhood. Watching it affords you that rarest of treats in Art, the sense that what you are witnessing is somehow meant for you. You don’t watch the movie; you experience it. There isn’t another film like it (the closest thing would be Michael Apted’s Up documentary series).
The film is about childhood, obviously, but it’s also about being a parent. I wonder if part of the reason why the film is getting so much praise is that it’s unflinchingly honest about single parenting, a subject that is well-worn by movie and TV writers, but which is usually dealt with in either broadly comic or melodramatically soap opera-ish terms. Here, though, we see Mason’s mother at her best and her worst, making one bad decision after another. She has shitty taste in men and makes disastrous choices. If nothing else, Boyhood deserves an award for showing that drunken stepfathers are not the preserve of cinema’s working classes: you can be fairly well-off and live in a nice big house with a swimming pool and still be a violent, abusive asshole.
But Mom also tries to make things better for herself and her children. The film may be one of the most honest portraits of motherhood ever filmed. It’s not really a comeback performance from Patricia Arquette because she never went away, but it is a revelation from an actress who most people (this writer included) never really rated that highly. After seeing Boyhood, you might think you really should have been watching Medium all along.
Mason’s dad, meanwhile, gets to be the fun guy in the kid’s life, sporadically dropping by in his cool car, laden with presents, ready to take the kids bowling or to a baseball game. He’s also a wannabe musician, so he’s Cool Dad. He’s the guy who doesn’t have to discipline his kids because he’s not around enough to see them misbehave. He’s the guy who doesn’t have to keep on top of their homework because he’s not around to go to parent-teacher meetings. He doesn’t make them do chores. He wants to have fun. A different film would be heavy-handed about the fact that Dad is still basically a kid himself, but Linklater and Hawke know better. Besides, at least he’s responsible enough to talk to Samantha about birth control.
As the years go by he gets his shit together, gets a little more responsible and dresses and acts more conservatively. He trades in his classic car for a minivan. You know how when you were a teenager you found an old photo of your parents when they were young and you think ‘wow, they were sort of cool’ and you try to reconcile the image with the stodgy pair of geezers sitting on the sofa. Parts of Boyhood feel like that.
As for Mason, well, he does what all kids do. He grows up. Awkwardly. He is curious about the world and unsure of his place in it, and he keeps himself somewhat at a remove from events. Photography seems a natural fit (Linklater wrote photography into the script because Coltrane was developing an interest in it). Does Mason talk a lot of adolescent nonsense about life and stuff, man? Of course he does. He’s a teenager. But Linklater never looks down upon him. Having grown up in front of our eyes it remains to be seen what Coltrane will do with his considerable talent. He regards himself as a part-time actor, and hopefully he won’t be ruined by Hollywood.
Not that I think that will happen, because it didn’t happen to Boyhood. Made in and around Austin in annual two-week stints over a twelve-year period, every year must have seemed like a wonderful reunion for the cast and crew, away from Hollywood bullshit.
As the title suggests, the film focuses on Mason, and while Coltrane is getting rightly praised for a wonderfully natural performance, Linklater’s daughter Lorelei is equally deserving of attention for her performance as his sister.
One of the many pleasures of the film is its look and sound. Remember those cool coloured Apple Macs? And remember that Funny or Die sketch with Will Ferrell and the baby? Oh, and hey, look, a poster for McCain-Palin! Although 2002 and 2005 and 2009 were not that long ago, you might have little stabs of nostalgia when you watch characters listening to a song on the radio, remembering how much you loved or hated that particular tune. There are over fifty songs on the soundtrack, and the feeling of hearing it as you watch the film is well-described here.
Boyhood is the best film of 2014 for many reasons; it is both a nostalgic home movie and a real-time documentary, and after seeing it, you may just wonder how the hell you managed to grow up as you did, and you may just marvel at how your parents pulled it all together. And you just might want to relive your childhood in all its messy glory.
Verdict: Twelve Hairstyles out of Twelve