Filmed over the course of 12 years, the film Boyhood follows 6-year-old Mason through the events of his growing-up years until he heads off to start his adult life. Director Richard Linklater used the same actors throughout the 12 years to play Mason and his family, making for an unusual movie experience.
Mason, played by young actor Ellar Coltrane, lives with his mother and sees his father sporadically. Mason’s mom, played by Patricia Arquette, is a loving single mother who is frustrated by her situation in life. Her children rightly intuit that they are sometimes part of what makes her situation so frustrating. Every decision she makes about her life has ramifications for Mason and his sister Samantha—sometimes benefiting them and sometimes not so much.
Their dad, played by Ethan Hawke, loves his kids but has no idea how to be a real father. He just keeps playing the part whenever he’s nearby, eventually developing a relationship with them that sometimes moves beyond goofing around to actually meeting some of their needs.
While their children experiment with different coping methods, the two parents each fumble through their own maturation processes, figuring out who they are and what they really want.
Often those things come at the expense of turning their children into so much collateral damage along the way. They want something better for their kids, but in the end even the most heartfelt advice and encouragement they hand out are fistfuls of nothing. Mason and Samantha are left to repeat the same road, finding their own fumbling way to maturity.
What makes the movie so compelling is that it feels so real. Watching the actors age onscreen, without the help of prosthetics and makeup, makes viewers acutely aware of how quickly time, childhoods, and whole lifetimes pass by. Arquette’s character at one point, looking back at the years gone by, says “I thought there was going to be more”—a cry familiar to most of us.
Unnerving as this reminder of mortality may be, Boyhood is a thoughtful, wistful look at what it is to be a child in America. On disc now. (Paramount)