Boyhood: 12 Summers with Mason



boyhoodThe story of Boyhood takes place over 12 years, but the novel thing about it is that Richard Linklater shot the film over the course of 12 summers. In other words, the time span is real. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, co-producer John Sloss talked about the risks. It takes guts to commit to a project that won’t generate a return for 12 years. It takes guts to commit to a project where everybody involved, especially children, can walk away after a number of years. Sloss had to rely on the judgment of his director who found the perfect actors to work with as the parents, and the perfect kid to play their son. I have to assume that Linklater also put a lot of faith in the kid’s parents. He would become the “uncle” who dropped by every summer for 12 years to shoot a few more scenes for his project. Considering the ambition and time spent, one is almost afraid to criticize Boyhood. But it’s hard to find flaws.

When we first meet Mason Evans, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), he’s six years old, living somewhere in Texas with his mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). After breaking up with her boyfriend, Olivia and her family move to Houston where she attends university. The kids’ father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) shows up one day and wants to spend time with them. They have a good time at the bowling alley, but it ends with an argument between Olivia and Mason. Even though there’s doubt as to whether or not he’ll stay in Texas this time, Mason becomes a part of the kids’ lives and continues to see them on a regular basis. Eventually, Olivia falls in love with one of her teachers (Marco Perella) and marries him. Young Mason and Samantha suddenly have two new siblings, but alcoholism becomes a threat…

Episodic feel to it
I suppose that one of the film’s strongest aspects is what some people might also object to. There’s an episodic feel to it and you might say that “nothing” happens. But the point is that this is what our lives in general look like. Few films capture that weird feeling we all have sooner or later in life – here I am and it’s been [insert number] years since I graduated from high school, and what the hell has happened since? Using the same cast over 12 years could be seen as a gimmick, that this wouldn’t be much to talk about if Mason, Jr. had been played by, say, three boys in varying ages. But it’s beside the point. Our visual and emotional journey together with Ellar Coltrane from his cute childhood, through awkward teenage years, right up until the moment when his character is leaving for college is intimately entwined with the movie as a whole. The effect on us is made even stronger by the presence of two famous actors, Hawke and Arquette, whom we also get to see grow older in a natural way over the 12-year span. Linklater uses Apple devices as a clever way to mark time, from iMacs to iPhones; smart advertising, but considering the company’s unrivaled success it makes sense and isn’t just a cheesy stunt. Coltrane and Lori Linklater, the director’s daughter, contribute vital charm as the kids; their naturalism compensates for lack of acting skills. Hawke is fun to watch as the deadbeat dad who suddenly finds love; Arquette gives a standout performance as the mom who seems unable to find the right male role model for her kids.

After making the Before movies and this one, it seems clear that Linklater is fascinated with time. I saw this film with my brother and it’s impossible to experience it and not think of how true it rings with the episodic memories of your own childhood.

Boyhood 2014-U.S. 165 min. Color. Produced by Richard Linklater, Jonathan Sehring, John Sloss, Cathleen Sutherland. Written and directed by Richard Linklater. Cast: Ellar Coltrane (Mason Evans, Jr.), Patricia Arquette (Olivia Evans), Lorelei Linklater (Samantha Evans), Ethan Hawke (Mason Evans, Sr.), Libby Villari, Marco Perella.

Trivia: Linklater made a deal with Hawke where if he died during production Hawke would finish the film.

Oscar: Best Supporting Actress (Arquette). Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Drama), Director, Supporting Actress (Arquette). BAFTA: Best Film, Director, Supporting Actress (Arquette). Berlin: Best Director.

Last word: “I always told [Coltrane] that the film was going to go where he went. It would merge with him. [Mason] is not him at the beginning at all. He wasn’t like that, and he wouldn’t dress like that. He’s a lot cooler than that kid at the beginning, in a way. We kind of had to normal him up a little bit. Ellar was pretty advanced. So was Lorelei. They didn’t really like the wardrobe the first few years of the movie. They said, ‘I would never wear this!’ We were trying to explain, ‘Because you guys are both weird…’ [Laughs.] ‘You both are not very normal,’ whatever that means. And so I always knew at some point that [their characters were] going to fuse with the real person. I think that’s Ellar up on the mountain at the end. That’s him.” (Linklater, The Dissolve)

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