Yesterday, I braved the light snowfall in the mountains to finally see Boyhood at Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood came out this past summer, and though I wanted to see it immediately, the film began with a small release, and once it was near me, I missed it. This means that by November 1st my expectations of the film, which was shot with the same cast over 12 years, were sky-high. I have no doubts this impacted my experience, but alas, isn’t the point of being a Couch Critic that you can be a little late to the party?
I recognize the film in itself is a triumph purely for the mechanics of it all– the lead character, Mason, had to be cast when he was six, and this same boy grows into a man right before viewers’ eyes. Played by Ellar Coltrane, Mason is a clean slate for the audience– he’s not a star we’ve seen before, which offers the film a type of home-movie quality. Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, and director’s daughter Lorelei Linklater round out the rest of the cast, and they are just as thrilling to watch age as Coltrane, Arquette most of all. Spending about 15 minutes per year, the movie moves quickly because one is constantly trying to keep up– absorbing 12 years in 165 minutes requires focus.
Linklater breaks up the years solely via references, and none that are outright cheesy– there’s only one year when a birthday is celebrated (Mason’s 15th), but there are no New Years celebrations, etc. Music plays a large role in the film, with what was current playing in each new year, such as younger sister Sam (Linklater) performing “Oops… I Did it Again” and the film beginning with Coldplay’s “Yellow.” Sidenote: Trent, fellow film and pizza lover as well as date to Boyhood, and I both agreed this immediately began the film with a sour taste. He turned to me and said, “I hope this is playing on an iPod or something”– but our dreams were crushed when “Yellow” was a non-diegetic choice. Granted, it dated the film, and we understand that purpose; however, I’ve looked into what else was on NOW 6, the album that familiarized nine year old me with “Yellow” in 2001, and other tracks available for Linklater’s use include Shaggy’s “Wasn’t Me,” Jennifer Lopez’s “My Love Don’t Cost a Thing,” and perhaps the most obvious choice, U2’s “Beautiful Day.” C’mon.
The film also used the Harry Potter series, video games, the 2008 election, and the aftermath of September 11th as timestamps. Because I never read Harry Potter or played video games, I occasionally became lost as to how old Mason was; regardless, still powerful, and Boyhood shows incredible insight into the life of an American child. I loved the subtle inclusions, like games played on the trampoline, passing notes in class, the styles worn, particularly by Sam. Put simply, Boyhood is a moving time capsule.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t thrilled by the portrayal of Mason’s parents. Olivia, played by Arquette, is a single mother who, without spoiling too much, endures a couple divorces, is abused, is impoverished, but goes back to school so she can better herself and her family. She is fierce, loyal, and trying. Arquette plays this beautifully; however, the film doesn’t give her enough to chew. Meanwhile, Hawke plays the absent, (surprise!) musician father who comes to town with exciting outings for the kids and no sign of disciplining them– the number of times we see Arquette doing so? Countless. Granted, the other grown men in the film are abusive, drunk, and other less than stellar adjectives, so Hawke as a kind man is, in its own way, needed. Some may argue that he’s not a good guy– after all, he left his family and only once they’re older visits every other weekend. However, by the film’s end, one is drawn to him. We see him teaching Mason how to throw a football, giving Sam the sex talk, celebrating Mason’s birthday with presents and cake, but Olivia never has a scene like this. In her last scene, Olivia says, “I thought there would be more.” She was referencing life in general, but I nodded thinking of her role.
Meanwhile, sister Sam might as well not be there. In a few scenes she plays an important part (choosing not to pick up her brother after school, the Britney bit), but by the end, I was asking, “Why?” I have two sisters myself, and I can guarantee you sisters are impactful through their actions and personalities. We see no solo parenting of Sam (even Mason is included in the aforementioned sex talk), no activity from her (did she seriously have no hobbies?), no celebrations. I know the film is called Boyhood, but it’s not intended to be about an only child.
I could write a book on this film, but I won’t, and I’ll wrap up now because at this point you might’ve aged 12 years or thought to yourself, “Well, now I don’t need to see this movie.” You do though. It’s revolutionary in its execution, it’s fascinating, it’s inspiring, it’s nostalgic. It is a movie that shouts “America!” (or arguably “Texas!,” where it is set). There’s nothing exhilarating about the plot, and you won’t leave wanting more, but I think you’ll leave impressed, and those films can be hard to find. This one is bound to be in Redbox soon, so watch it. It’s best with a side of pizza.