Back in April, I had the good fortune to watch Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" at the Phoenix Film Festival.
Tip: If you want to watch an indie film before it's released, check out the film festivals near you. Great films are waiting to be discovered at film festivals.
I love Linklater. He wrote and directed "Before Sunrise" and directed its two sequels. That trilogy of films that shows love and its evolution over the years. God, those films are good.
Sidenote: Jesse and Celine forever!
Anyway, "Boyhood" was filmed over thirteen years. The same four main actors returned every year for a few days to shoot scenes for the film, which is about a boy growing up.
If you want to stop there, go ahead and miss a great film. Why is it great? Well, first, putting together the challenge of filming over thirteen years and having the patience to say, "It's not done yet" helps. The easy route would've been for Linklater to cast different boys at different stages of their life and film the whole thing in a few months. But then, you'd miss the point. You'd miss Ellar Coltrane go through growing up, his dramatic voice change, and, my personal favorite, his many hairstyles. There are also the small bits of popular culture that we'll all remember. Because the film was shot during these actual moments in time, they feel more authentic than re-created for the screen.
The beauty of "Boyhood" is that it's a simple story, even though the making of it wasn't. We meet Mason Junior at the age of about 5, living with his mother and his pain-in-the-ass older sister, Sam (played by Linklater's daughter). As the parents, Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are fantastic. They go through as much change as Mason does throughout the film. Despite them being already divorced at the beginning, each of them spends a good amount of time with Mason. The only person I wish we'd seen more of is Sam. She appears in a lot of the scenes, but her character doesn't feel fully fleshed-out as well as Mason's and the parents' do. But, then again, it's called "Boyhood" not "Girlhood."
I VOLUNTEER TO MAKE "GIRLHOOD."
Arquette is probably given the hardest role. A single mother who does her absolute best to provide and protect her children while also trying to survive in this harsh world. She is slowly betrayed and abandoned year after year. But she gets back up and continues to be optimistic. I'd love to see a supporting actress nod for Arquette. Her performance is filled with so much weight I felt like I wanted to help her carry something. Watch her tell her children they're moving and them arguing against it. It's exhausting and she shows us. Her final scene is heartbreaking.
Mason Sr., on the other hand, almost comes out as the hero in the story. He's the cool dad with the cool car. He's funny, charming, a musician. He enjoys his boyish years and then grows into a respected man.
The years are slowly etched into their faces. Every new scene includes a new wrinkle and some grey hairs for both. Again, something you wouldn't be able to appreciate fully if the film had been done in a short period of time. Makeup does a good job, but it can't replace real life.
But the real story is Mason's. He grows up probably thinking, "These adults are really fucked up." By the time he reaches his adolescent years, he's mostly determined to not follow in anyone's footsteps. You know, like most teenagers. Because, isn't that how they see us? We give them advice so they won't make the same mistakes we did, and there they go ignoring us and making the same mistakes.
It's the circle of life.
Mason rarely talks. He observes people's behaviors. He listens to his father, who actually makes good points in his many speeches in the film. He listens to everyone talk, even though we know and Mason knows that it's all a bunch of bullshit. Or maybe it's not, but at the time it is. There are moments when Mason is pushed, literally and figuratively, and you think you know how he's going to react. Those are the moments when Linklater forces us to think about our own psyche and our own beliefs about boys.
When I left the theater, I tweeted that watching "Boyhood" was like "watching my little brother's life." It's true. We live in an unfortunate world where we see or hear on the news mostly the bad things that young men do. But there are millions of young men out there just trying to get through boyhood.