Release Date: August 15th, 2014 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Richard Linklater Actors: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Marco Perella, Brad Hawkins, Jenni Tooley, Zoe Graham
oung Mason Evans (Ellar Coltrane) is pretty much a typical 6-year old boy. But living in a small house with his slightly older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and his fatigued mother Olivia “Liv” (Patricia Arquette), who struggles with being a single parent, brings out a bit of angst and rebellion. At school, Mason stares out the window, fails to turn in homework, and destroys the pencil sharpener with rocks. When Liv decides to move to Houston to be closer to her own mother and to go back to college, hoping to open up her options for raising her family more comfortably, the kids are forced to give up their friends and house and familiarities.
Though the new home allows Samantha and Mason to have their own rooms, it also puts them back into the path of their marginally deadbeat father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), recently returned from Alaska. Samantha only remembers the fighting and unhappiness between her parents, but Mason Sr. is determined to recreate his image as a fun-loving partier, handing out gifts and junk food and trips to the bowling alley; he wants to assume an ideal role in his allotted biweekly visits. As time goes by, Liv dates and then weds her professor, Bill Welbrock (Marco Perella), who contributes two of his own children, Randy (Andrew Villarreal) and Mindy (Jamie Howard), to the family.
One of the major goals of the film is to demonstrate realism, especially in terms of familial complications and stresses, the disruption and discomfort of separated spouses/broken homes, and opposing notions of parenting. As is typical, competition between the caretakers ensues, with regular attempts to buy the affection and attention of their children, while intentions of building new lives with different love interests occupies the adults. And financial success and career accomplishments are similarly important factors.
Purposefully, there’s no glamour or Hollywood flair to the happenings, though a momentary subplot of abuse is a touch overdramatic. The characters argue, go camping, take trips to parks and ball games, do sports, get haircuts, play video games, and make friends. Mundane activities like eating, studying, and hanging out tend to eat up screentime, while living situations and schools keep changing, forcing Mason, Samantha, and Olivia to cope with evolving relationships and jobs. At many points, the film appears to lack a script and distinct direction.
The major, noteworthy, experimental aspect to “Boyhood” is the decision to shoot the film over a 12-year period, using the same actors as they age. This is most noticeable with the central figures of Ellar and Lorelei, though it’s entirely obvious with the older players too, including Arquette and Perella. As it turns out, utilizing different actors for varying ages (or gaps in time) – as well as for parents and siblings – isn’t as distracting or unconvincing as director Richard Linklater probably assumes. Even when ethnicity appears mismatched, casting unrelated actors is the accepted standard. Linklater’s unusual venture doesn’t change the storyline or character development; if it weren’t a promotional selling point, it would be entirely inconsequential.
As a coming-of-age film, with potent notes of bullying, young love, adolescent woes, the-birds-and-the-bees talks, birthday parties, disrespect toward authority, dabbling in drugs, drinking, sex, peer pressure, moodiness, entry-level jobs, bosses, and growing responsibilities, “Boyhood” attempts to cover the entire gamut of teen maturation. And with a nearly three-hour running time, it largely succeeds. But with asides for political, philosophical, and existential observations, landscaping negotiations, reflections on upbringings, and all sorts of small talk, a soundtrack unfittingly peppered with popular songs, and exercises in general mediocrity (including the literal skipping of stones), the film seems unfocused and meandering. Chronicling what looks and feels like a lifetime (the formative years of elementary through college) for a staggeringly ordinary life is, for the most part, thoroughly un-cinematic. By the end, it’s basically just a documentary.
– Mike Massie