Richard Linklater's just released film, Boyhood, has received well-deserved universal acclaim. Here's one more post to add to the laurels.
And here's a pointer to the extensive Bob Edwards interview with Linklater last weekend.
Filmed between 2002 and 2013, Boyhood depicts the childhood of Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director's daughter) and Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane). We literally watch the children grow up before our eyes. They are the children of college professor Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and musician-turned-rambling-man Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke). The film is 166 minutes long; Hawke calls it Tolstoy-esque.
And so it is. Any successful epic must have a grasp of both the big themes and the everyday details. Linklater succeeds magnificently at both. I'll mention just one everyday detail of hundreds: On one of his visits Mason Sr. is driving his kids to see a Houston Astros game (the film takes place in various Texas cities). Both Samantha and Mason Jr. are providing one-word answers to his conversational gambits. Mason Sr. expresses frustration, claiming he wants real conversation. The kids chide him gently that his questions are contrived. Mason Sr. says ok, he'll be more natural from now on. Starting right now! We've all been there, I think; perceiving a necessary change, and trying to force the new behavior immediately.
Big themes: The strength of women, even (especially) when they have married the wrong man. Olivia and Mason Sr were never married, owing to their youth. (Perhaps they would have married if they'd met later or waited for parenthood.) Olivia marries two other men, both of whom are too fond of the bottle. Through it all she earns advanced degrees and becomes a popular college professor. She is tougher on Samantha than on Mason Jr, which made me feel bad for Samantha but not upset at Olivia. In the end her kids come out fine, due to her efforts more than anyone else's.
Due to Olivia's strength the film could have easily been called Motherhood. It was going to be 12 Years, except that the film 12 Years a Slave came out recently and Linklater wanted to avoid confusion.
So Boyhood is not quite right but it's not wrong either. We learn more about Mason Jr's interior life than Samantha's, perhaps because Linklater found this easier to convery as he was once a boy himself.
Case in point: by the time he enters college Mason Jr. wants to delete his Facebook page because he's tired of living life via a screen. There's deep wisdom there, except that Mason Jr. muddles his message with excessive broodiness. Then again, he's only 18. One suspects that he'll figure out how to make his point more confidently and gracefully once he ventures forth into adulthood.