Oh boy, oh boyhood

Andy Frakes

“Boyhood” is an incredibly well-executed coming-of-age story. The film clocks in at 165 minutes, just 15 minutes short of three hours long; if Boyhood were a book, one could call it a tome. It currently holds a 100 percent score on Metacritic, 99 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 8.7 out of 10 on IMDB.

Not a lot of films score quite so well, but the critical acclaim isn’t the top reason moviegoers should pay attention. “Boyhood” was filmed and produced over the course of 12 years and maintained perfect character continuity, retaining every major actor involved to film a few days each year and show the chronological progress of… Boyhood. The sheer accomplishment of making this project work qualifies it of your time. Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane and all the other actors involved in the film made a huge commitment to be a part of the finished product.

The movie explored some highly-relatable themes such as growing up and finding maturity, acquiring an identity, fatherhood, alcohol and drug use, and the relationships between mother and child. As camera lenses captured the little vignettes of Mason’s early life I felt pangs of nostalgia, being reminded of such moments in my own experience. My parents are together and I never dealt with the separation from my father that Mason deals with in the film, but I did deal with bullies, I did hate school, I did want to play video games before doing chores (and similarly incur the wrath of my dad). Moments like those, the quintessential boyhood experiences, are part of the driving force behind the success of the movie.

The theme of fatherhood is one of the most important themes of the film, and it’s one that Ethan Hawke had personal material to draw from. In a speech he gave, which was broadcast via a podcast called The Moth, Hawke told the story of his own relationship with the male figure in his life. He grew up with an unmoored mother who brought a colorful element home with her, most notably the man who would become his role model. As Ethan Hawke said upon completion of the project, his role in the movie was really all about “a guy who learned how to show up as a father,” and he played the part exceedingly well.

Ethan Hawke’s character isn’t portrayed as a heavy drinker, unlike the other men that Patricia Arquette allows into her life (and her childrens’ lives). Her second husband is a college professor whom Olivia seems to marry out of hope for security and support. The man’s life is consumed before long by alcoholism and the audience sees him buying liquor at a seedy party store and stashing it behind the laundry detergent when he gets home. When Mason graduates high school he strolls into his mother’s house, after emptying a flask outside with his friend, to a festively-filled living room. The camera pays special attention to the distribution of wine among the mothers present, Arquette included; the immediate zone-in on any alcohol on-screen hurt the subtlety of the film in my eyes, but Linklater wanted to make clear that the film was as much about how booze affects families as it was about a kid growing up.

While “Boyhood” had many stand-out scenes and performances, it wasn’t free of shortcomings. Linklater fell prey to some of the same losses of finesse that other directors and producers suffer from, but in a three-hour movie filmed under such specific conditions certain hardships are inevitable.

The largest drawback of having actors commit long-term to this film involved the child actors playing Mason and Sam. Although they grew up and changed as people over the course of the film, I don’t see either of them being offered large roles in the near future due to sheer acting abilities. Linklater couldn’t have possibly foreseen this when offering contracts to kids who were six and nine years old at the onset of production, but his own daughter Lorelai never presented more of herself than the awkward sister/daughter, skirting the edge of real character development for the course of the movie. Of course this could just be the way her character was written. But my own explanation of why the two kids seemed odd as actors is pretty simple:

Teenagers are, by nature, awkward.

Gawky, greasy, uncomfortable, moody, hard to follow. The true-to-life portrayals of kids in puberty is one of the best parts of the film, in my opinion.

There is no Hollywood gloss. Mason, the protagonist and main character, has acne and unflattering stubble on his face. He isn’t some pre-Adonis actor hand-picked to please the Belieber demographic as he matures into the young man we see at the end of the film; he’s just another American kid. We see ourselves in him and his sister, young people just trying to find their respective ways through the  troubled  waters of adolescence, and in this way Linklater builds  a  world  that  becomes  the  one  we’ve  known  all along.