Two hours and forty minutes is a long time. You could watch an entire baseball game (if Mark Buehrle is pitching), run a marathon, or watch Hamlet and complain about it for 50 minutes in that time. BUT, when a film is created over the course of twelve years, covering over a decade in the lives of its characters, brevity is not the priority. Richard Linklater (who wrote and directed) didn’t slack off in the years Boyhood was filmed, directing hits like School of Rock, Before Midnight, and Fast Food Nation while working on his magnum opus. Boyhood was truly an original and unique viewing experience, one around which I’m still trying to wrap my head, so let’s see if the obligatory questions can help us out.
Should I pay to see it?
An interesting question, considering the length and originality of the work. The easy answer is yes, but one should never settle for easy answers! As you’ve probably gathered already, this is not a story filled with CGI or dimensions-defying sights, but it is fascinating to watch such an extensive piece of work play out in its banal glory upon an enormous screen. Of course, you should not wait to watch this one on cable, when commercials will make the running time unbearable. It’s still unclear if Boyhood will become a phenomenon as it expands to more and more theaters, but you won’t regret buying tickets regardless.
Based on merit alone, Boyhood is worth your time and money. It follows the story of Mason, played by various incarnations of Ellar Coltrane, as he grows from pipsqueak to awkward middle schooler to young man. Linklater fave Ethan Hawke plays his father, separated and somewhat estranged from his mother, played by Patricia Arquette in a standout performance. The film never attempts or pretends to be anything more than the story of a family struggling to evolve as a unit and as individuals, making for a long, oscillating journey to which just about anyone can relate. Mason goes through several haircuts, heights, and volatile stepfathers, standing strong as the world relentlessly hurls adversities his way, as the music changes with the trends of the times.
At times, the transitions from age to age are stunning, namely one in which Soulja Boy blares in the background while Mason suddenly appears on the screen, years older and far more mature than he was seconds before. Moments later, his youthful joy comes crashing down as he finds his mother in the aftermath of her new husband’s physical abuse. Brief scenes like this litter the film, reminding Mason and the Masons watching just how quickly things can change either way, flipping from joy to dread just as quick or slow as the calendar turns its pages. We see Halo and Harry Potter, war in Iraq and Roger Clemens still idolized (with the immortal Jason Lane hitting a homer!), yet the main story remains the same: can Mason find a way to define his own self despite the craziness of his circumstances and compatriots? The answer may remain unclear, but it’s worth paying a few bucks to watch him look for it.
Could I watch it with a date?
You had me at “Yellow” (The Coldplay song “Yellow” opens the film. So my joke is hilarious.).
For me, as I learned the hard way, this one’s a no. My better half was not aware of the movie’s immense length beforehand, and was none too pleased upon learning of it, but besides that the film is still not ideal date fare. As mentioned, the story focuses on Mason’s yearning for self-sovereignty in spite of the parents, teachers, and potential mates distracting or threatening him. There are certainly plenty of touching moments, and you and yours may very well enjoy reminiscing about the various cultural high points referenced in the film (Most importantly, Pearl!). Mostly, though, the film portrays a slew of delicate and doomed relationships, between spouses, lovers, and everything in between.
For Mason, most of his love life consists of semi and pseudo-profound talks with his almost-girlfriend Sheena, played effectively frustrating by Zoe Graham. Their conversations reflect both their youth and respective desires, longings that eventually clash too deeply for them to endure as a couple. Unless your date is a doll or very secure in their feelings for you, perhaps shy away from this soul-searching tale.
Could I watch it with my mother?
Good question! The best scenes of the movie involve Coltrane working with either Hawke or Arquette, but while some of these are heartwarming, many are unsettling and tense. In Mason’s youth, his father shows a pleasant discomfort with being a parent, misfiring when he lectures his kids on the politics of entering Iraq but nailing it when he wows Mason with the magic of whales and the wonders of nature. Hawke and Coltrane have great chemistry throughout their years together, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that the older forms of Mason bear a noticeable resemblance to his father.
There are many instances of good parenting and outright love for children, but there are also moments of verbal and physical abuse and dangerous behavior. For every good example set before Mason’s eyes a bad one springs up, leaving the boy unsure of who to follow or emulate. Arquette’s authentic aging and development is quite powerful, from an overwhelmed and underprepared single mother into a professor, strong and independent. At times, it seems clear that the actors truly love one another, having witnessed more than a decade of growth and maturation on the set, and this simply augments the moments in which they have to give apologies or thanks or farewells. Structured almost like a realer, less idealized Forrest Gump, Boyhood would definitely be an emotional film to watch with parents, as they look over to you and consider your own life speeding by.
There are loud moments and quiet ones, but the story is a small throughout, ending not with a bang but a simple opening, a wide space in which Mason can step forward unobstructed, allowed to and capable of defining himself on his own terms.