Saturday, February 28, 2015


Boyhood (2014) Starring: Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke. Directed by Richard Linklater. Screenplay by Richard Linklater. Produced by Richard Linklater, Cathleen Sutherland, Cathleen Sutherland, John Sloss. Run Time: 165 minutes. U.S. Color. Drama.

Thirteen years ago, Richard Linklater, the director behind Slacker (1991), Dazed and Confused (1993), SubUrbia (1996) and Waking Life (2001), had an idea to make a movie showing the life of an adolescent boy growing up with divorced parents. While the story idea might not be ground shaking, it was the film’s production schedule that would be very different. In order to show the life of the boy from first grade through to college, Linklater and cast would assemble for a few weeks every year for the next 12 years to make this movie. IFC had the foresight to go along with the idea and provided a shooting budget of $2.4 million, $200,000 per year, and Linklater began making his movie in 2002, wrapping in 2013. Few films have had longer shooting schedules: Blood Tea and Red String, released in 2006, took 13 years to complete and Coffee and Cigarettes, released in 2003, was shot over a period of 17 years.

The cast Linklater assembled would be considered eclectic, a mixture of unknowns and seasoned professionals. Ellar Coltrane (Mason Evans, Jr.) was an unknown child actor from Austin, Texas, whose previous credit was Lone Star State of Mind (2002). Patricia Arquette (Mason’s mother Olivia), a fine actress and probably the best of the acting Arquette siblings. Ethan Hawke (Mason Evans, Sr.), an accomplished actor and writer. He first drew attention as Todd Anderson in the Dead Poets Society (1989) and had worked with Linklater on the films Before Sunrise (1995); The Newton Boys (1998) and Waking Life (2001). And Lorelei Linklater (Mason’s sister, Samantha), the director’s daughter, who had only previously appeared in Waking Life.

Director Richard Linklater with his daughter Lorelei, who plays Samantha Evans in Boyhood.

While he had an idea about how the story would end, every year Linklater would write the bit of script that would be shot that year, after watching the last year’s shooting and incorporating changes he saw in each actor. Since the shooting schedule was to last twelve years, the cast could not sign contracts. According to California’s De Havilland Law, named after actress Olivia De Havilland, contracts for personal services cannot be longer than seven years.

The project was fraught with possible issues affecting everyone involved. Actors could become unavailable due to work or for personal reasons. And there was also the possibility one of the cast members could die. Linklater had considered his own mortality, advising Hawke that he would have to finish the film should the director die before filming was completed.

However, all the big obstacles were overcome. When Patricia Arquette got the lead in a television series, shooting had to be confined to weekends. And all the cast members and the director made it through from start to finish.

The film hit the festival circuit with the premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2014. Since then it has won many major awards, including the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama and the BAFTA for Best Film. The directing, writing and acting have also all been recognized with either awards or nominations. When I saw the film for the first time, it was already nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Ethan Hawke), Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Arquette) and Best Editing (Sandra Adair).

The movie itself is an epic independent film which follows the life of Mason as he grows up in a series of broken homes with his mother, sister and father as the only constants in his life. There are touchstones throughout, but not necessarily milestones. We’re not shown an ending parade of firsts for Mason (kiss, driving, etc); it is not that type of a movie. There is a universality about the experience of growing up and anyone who has made it to college can no doubt see something from their own life in the experiences of Mason.

The film has a lot of autobiographical references for Linklater, who, like the protagonist, is a Texan from a broken home raised by his mother. And as the filmmaking continued, there are autobiographical elements included from the other cast members as well, including Hawke’s Black Album, an unofficial collection of solo Beatles 
recordings he made for his own daughter, which in the film Mason Sr. gives to Mason Jr. on the latter’s birthday.

If there are autobiographical elements throughout the film, one has to hope that Lorelei Linklater is nothing like the Samantha character that she plays in the film.

Speaking of the acting, it is very good across the board. The performances of Arquette and Hawke, two actors whose careers I have not followed closely, make me think that I should have. While you would expect them to be good, since they are professionals, the performance, given over a twelve year period, is very believable and they both deserve whatever accolades are given to them for this film. Of the two, Arquette as the mother raising Mason is present for more of the story than Hawke, who plays a father with a second family. Not only is he sometimes emotionally distant from his children, Mason Sr. lives hours away throughout most of the story.

Ethan Hawke (r) plays Mason Evans Sr. to Ellar Coltrane's Mason Evans, Jr.

Arquette, who would receive the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, along with many other such awards, gives a very powerful performance as a single mother trying to do what’s best for her children and for herself. It is not easy and she gives a performance which shows both maternal pride and personal heartache.

Patricia Arquette won an Academy Award for her performance as Olivia Evans,
a single mother who does the best she can for her children and herself.

But it is the unknowns, Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater, who are surprisingly good. While Linklater is very believable as a self-absorbed drama queen, it is really Coltrane that the film depends on. Director Linklater got very lucky that the choice he made for the child actor playing Mason Jr. would be able to not only hold up over twelve years, but be as interesting to an audience at six as he is at eighteen. If Coltrane decides to pursue a career in acting, I would predict he would do very well as he seems to be a natural.

A poster that shows the changes Mason (Ellar Coltrane) goes through during the course of the film.

My only complaint about the film is that so much either happens off screen, which is unavoidable given the breadth it is trying to cover, and that conflict and perilous situations are created, but are not concluded or dealt with at all. The film is really a two and half hour character study. Mason is a changed person by the end of the film, but his change is not really all that unprecedented, but rather somewhat predictable as everyone is changed merely by the act of growing up. And, as is in line with the rest of the movie, we don’t see what Mason Jr. ultimately becomes. But of course, we are all still changing and evolving throughout our lives. We are never done and as far as Boyhood goes, neither is Mason. It’s just that in art you want the kind of conclusions that escape us in real life, not necessarily a reflection of that unresolved state.

That said, the film is quite engaging and the changes between the years are handled extremely well. Not only is there a consistency in the acting and in the look of the film, but the editing makes the transitions almost unnoticeable. The pacing is such that the film does not seem long at nearly two and a half hours. Having been filmed in pieces, the movie rings true to the passing years it represents. While the opinions expressed may have a liberal slant, they are still accurate in a way that only present tense can provide. There is no need to recreate; there is a subtle history lesson for future generations, as the film captures the changes in attitudes, fashion, music and gaming without dwelling on any of them.

Like Birdman, which beat this film out for Best Picture honors, Boyhood is more than just a gimmick film. True it is somewhat unique due to its lengthy production schedule, but it tries to give a different slant on the adolescent years of the protagonist. This is truly one of the better recent films, but I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for the sequel.

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