About a Boyhood

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Roberta goes to the movies and sees a great piece of ensemble acting in a warm, human story.

In the almost three hours Richard Linklater‘s Boyhood takes to tell the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from age five to eighteen, the haircuts change, and the pop music of the background does too. But the kid and his just folks family, living their pretty darned normal Texas lives, stay normal and true. Their lives are chronicled with such quiet and intimate storytelling that by the end they feel like friends.

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Boyhood (IMDBWikipedia) is outside the recent Hollywood tradition of family portrayals.  This is not a movie that is hijacked by 1) an alien invasion; 2) ghosts; 3) zombies or vampires; 4) the end of the world.  And it couldn’t come at a better time, when, well I don’t have to remind you what’s happening in the world in the summer of 2014, but most people need an escape into a sweet story.

Of course the news about Boyhood is that it was shot over 12 years, a little each year, using the same actors, so you literally see them aging over time — Mason grows up, the parents fill out and get a little grey.  Unlike Francois Truffaut, who used the same actor over time in several Antoine Doinel movies (400 Blows), Linklater has telescoped his piece about childhood growing up into one big heaping spoonful. Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel movies are autobiographical fiction and I’m guessing the Texas-born writer-director Linklater has some autobiographical fiction in Boyhood as well.

Ellar Coltrane (Mason) projects a vulnerable presence throughout. He’s a taciturn youngster, buffeted about by family events, who grows into a taciturn college Freshman. He’s arty (budding photographer) and a little loosey-g0osey like his dad but, like his mom, he seems in charge of himself.

Boyhood‘s 12-years roll by, a string of small moments glued together by love and the ability of these people to work things out, laugh and stay friends.  Mom (Patricia Arquette) is separated from dad (Ethan Hawke) and she makes some mistakes with new boyfriends but is a stellar example of a successful single mom with a career.  Dad’s a man/boy whose live-wire chatter and energy make him easy to like; and older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) is a great foil for her younger brother.  They fight but get along.  The ensemble acting by all is graceful and seems effortless.  You can feel there’s been bonding between the actors over the 12 years.

Apart from one bad guy character, an alcoholic who throws dishes and more, the movie is filled with likable characters doing likable things likeably.  There are a couple laugh-out-loud moments as when dad (Hawke) finds out his sweet, pre-teen daughter Samantha has a boyfriend and — Clueless Dad! — Lectures her!  — In public! In front of her little brother! — About having protected sex! Samantha is clearly too young for this lecture, and she tries to get him to stop, but he won’t and she cringes, laughs and hides her face and we laugh along.  As a stereotypical parental faux pas, it’s played light and sweet, and yes, it’s funny.

Boyhood is a has a heart and soul and the sweep of time holding it together. It’s a great quiet piece of filmmaking and deserves all the awards it’s getting, and then some.  Nathan Heller’s backgrounder in the New Yorker on the director, Richard Linklater, is filled with information about how the director works, which is not in the traditional Hollywood manner.

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