Friday, August 8, 2014

The Simplicity of a Very Common Journey

The beauty of Richard Linklater's Boyhood lies in its simplicity.  The filming process alone is a fascinating story, so the content isn't overly flashy or particularly dramatic.  I would slap the person that whines, "nothing happens in it" because everything happens in Boyhood.  Just because certain adolescent milestones are represented doesn't mean it's not a universal story.  It's such a beautiful film.

In case you weren't aware, Linklater started filming Boyhood in 2002.  He gathered the same actors together for a few weeks each year, and they filmed the aging of a young boy named Mason, played with quiet ease by Ellar Coltrane, over 12 years.  Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette play Mason's divorced parents, and Linklater's own daughter plays Samantha, his sister.  We quite literally see Ellar Coltrane grow up before our eyes.  

Mason goes through the same things that a lot of his kids experience.  Raised by Arquette, Mason and Samantha bug the hell out of each other, and Mom tries to balance going back to school while being a single parent.  They move to Houston to be closer to their grandmother, and Mason's mother eventually marries one of her professors named Bill.  They move (again) into Bill's house, and Mason and Samantha have siblings their own age.  Mason isn't necessarily the best student (he has the smarts, but not the motivation), and Bill is one of the first people to ride him on this issue.  The dynamic between Bill and the four children seems the teensiest bit off, and it turns out that Bill has become a raging alcoholic.  Marco Perella, as Bill, is a terrifying presence on screen.  

Hawke's Dad comes and goes to pick up the kids for a weekend of camping.  He takes them bowling, and Mason will talk to him about Star Wars and the general school week.  He's not a deadbeat--he cares for his kids, and when he tells his kids that he wants to have a conversation (instead of being the guy that picks them up every week), it's honest and believable.  Mom struggles, but she's the epitome of someone who will try her best for her kids.  

One of the things I always zeroed in on was Ellar Coltrane's nose.  As his face slimmed down or his hair grew longer, his cute, snubby nose stayed the same.  It was a constant reminder of the undertaking of this film.  Coltrane is almost never off screen, but it never seems like a jarring jump in time (even though the pair of ladies behind me were keeping score of when he got older).  It feels like we witness his entire life mainly because, well, we kind of do.  Mason grows into a lean, relaxed boy.  He seems to have had enough loudness in his life from all the video games he played and from his colorful little sis.  

Arquette ably conveys a woman trying to keep it all together.  We must not forget that not only does Mason grow, but his parents do as well.  The scenes where she gets to sit down and just talk to her kids are tender and sweet.  Hawke is looser, because he's the cool dad with the GTO at the beginning.  His transformation into the man he becomes is thought-provoking, and I would personally love to see a film starring these characters at the center as well.  You feel one when the other isn't on screen.

It's hard to describe Boyhood without it sounding like a laundry list of events.  The beautiful thing about it is that Boyhood is the story of all of us.  We all grow up, we all have relationships with our parents, we all drive our brothers and sisters crazy.  When we look at Mason, we are looking at ourselves even if the events we are witnessing are not specific to our personal, daily lives.  We see Mason discovering a passion for photography, and we are reminded of the things we love in our own lives.  That's why Boyhood is so enjoyable and powerful at the same time.  

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