Richard Linklater is a well-regarded director within committed movie circles. He has made some fantastic indie films that leave quite the impression- Daze & Confused, Bernie , Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly, School of Rock among others so there was quite the buzz when news was gathered that the Texas director over twelve years so that the cast could age naturally, interest was justifiably piqued. Following a young boy's life throughout childhood up to college is not exactly novel ground but to do so with natural aging processes over a decade proves that authenticity to the story was being handled with care and patience; which can be hard for a filmmaker. However, Linklater's newest work is a mixed bag of authentic progression and pretentious piss-moaning.
We meet Mason when he is still a small boy with a slightly older sister and a hardworking mother who is ambitious, if not rough around the edges. Patricia Arquette exhibits a masterful portrayal of a wounded woman who grinds through less than stellar circumstances to mobilize her family's social and financial situation. She's a singular embodiment of what many single mothers do to make life easier but not without her faults. Mason and Samantha's mom isn't particularly fond of their birth father; a free spirited Democrat who loves and cares for his children but also is a little too 'devil may cry' to be s stable influence when they are young. He is a passionate guy but like many of us, takes a while to find his lot in life. These two quality actors are the only really capable thespians in an extremely amateur and indicative web of opportunity that Linklater chose for most likely a bevy of reasons such as nepotism, commitment and cost. There was much to be desired with the majority of the cast.
The protagonist is played by newcomer Ellar Coltrane, who began this opportunity as a small child to play the role into his late teens. Beginning an kind of an aloof, curious child, Mason eventually digresses into a sniveling entitled little shit who appropriately annoys the preceding generation of less existential thought patterns. Seriously though, this dude comes off like a fake wannabe Generation version of Boy Meets World's Shawn Hunter. No joke, the kid was better when he was young because watching the second and third acts, I couldn't help think this was a less talented version of Hayden Christensen mixed with the wild animal child with crazy hair from The Wild Thornberrys. I will give the actor some credit as this was an extended challenge that could have been botched completely.
The soft-spoken, psuedo-intellectual, new age college know-it-all worn thin on me in the second half, despite the accuracy of Linklater's insight into the modern teen. There were, however, the relatable, mutual connections of any young male that grew up in the 90s and early 00s; progression of technology- the Apple MacIntosh iMacs, Nintendo Gameboys, Halo on the original XBox, first generation iPods, etc. were a nostalgic callback that certainly were common sight in the era. An extended scene at a Harry Potter book release party perfectly capturing the anticipation and hype surrounding the newest releases from J.K. Rowling's smash book series.
There were instances of clunky dialogue in spots that was all a bit romanticized but overall, this was a very organic work of realism. Widespread issues like alcoholism and domestic violence are fairly portrayed, in both the tone and discretion in which they are often perpetuated. It was appreciated that the photography of the movie did not overtly attempt a visual flair seeing as this may be one of the more ambitious 'slice of life' productions in recent memory. The focused, bare brunt look of the film is sharp yet does not dance around with reality too much. Hesitant to use the word, 'cheesy' regarding the scene where Mason & family see the former Mexican utility worker, a success story after taking 's advice but if that's the case I need an awfully close synonym.
Yet there are also moments of raw believability and tension such as when the father is bluntly trying to discuss safe sex in the bowling alley and Mason tries to discreetly sneak away; the mini breakdown of Arquette's character when Mason leaves for college and she realizes her life is half over and her obligations are all but accounted for. There are many moments of insight and introspection, yet still sharing its wholesomeness in a bag with moments of cheese and fluff. The audience could have done without Ethan Hawke's character jumping from one cliché to another- from free spirit cool dad to reformed Christian mini-van driver family man, it was a bit o the nose despite the frequency that this may transpire. It was great to include a natural influence in popular music for the films soundtrack- transitioning from Sheryl Crowe, Britney Spears and Aaliyah to modern crap like Soulja Boy and the quality of artists like Arcade Fire, Foo Fighters and The Black Keys.
No doubt and ambitious film venture, Boyhood will surely reach its audience and make an impression within an expansive set of demographics; despite how easily at times it could be to strangle the main character in his teens, the movie does represent the aging and maturation of a varied populace . There is ample sentimentality and cultural filaments as evidenced by wide recognition at Awards season including multiple Golden Globe victories. It seems all but decided that this wave of momentum and success will translate to the Oscars despite there being much more riskier works of art, the Academy seems primed to go the safe route and embolden Richard Linklater with the golden man on the industry's most self-appreciative and indulgent evening. How fitting.