There is some sort of indescribable magic about Boyhood. In just under three hours, we watch a boy and his family grow and transform over twelve years. Through this massive timespan, the tone, feel and heart of the film is set at a constant. Sometimes its hard to keep the same tone for twelve days, or twelve minutes, let alone twelve years. But when so much is changing in life, it is comforting to find something that always has its heart in the right place, and it won’t change.
As the film starts, Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is about six years old. He is a sweet and innocent boy, never makes much trouble and lives with his mom (Patricia Arquette) and older sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). His father, (Ethan Hawke) is trying too hard to be the cool dad, but is also very authentic with his children. We watch as Mason and his life changes through new stepfathers, new places to live, new challenges and as he faces the aches and joys of growing up.
What I find most beautiful about this film is that it says as much about living a boyhood, or being a child as it does about being a parent and witnessing a boyhood. Like so many children, Mason and his sister seem to be little kitetails attached to their mother. Where she goes, they must go, when she hits a bump, it reverberates back to them. As a child, you trust your parents and assume they know where they are leading you. But really, they are often trying to adjust and hold on while being blown off course by an unsympathetic wind. Boyhood brings this idea to life gracefully.
Nearly anyone can identify with this film and the characters, whether you’re a parent, child or lost teen. Masons milestones reminded me of a few of my own as a kid. More often though, it was his troubles at home that hit the hardest. His time with an abusive stepfather is painful and a bit frightening to watch. Learning that his once cool father sold his old GTO to get a minivan can be devastating to a teenager. And witnessing his first taste of romance turn to heartbreak is like a fresh heartbreak for us as well.
Boyhood is nominated for six Oscars. Richard Linklater is nominated for best director. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are nominated for supporting actress and actor for their roles as the parents, going from their early thirties to mid forties portraying all the bumps in the road between. The film is also nominated for best original screenplay, best editing and of course, best picture.
As the film ended, it dawned on me that Boyhood is a new kind of epic. Most films considered epic are fantasy or biblical with huge sets and a grand (often nerdy) following. Boyhood is a humble kind of epic. It boasts a small but committed cast who allow us to watch them grow and age on camera. It quietly fits in all the joy and pain of adolescence within a couple short hours. While some parts are dramatic and others a lighthearted, the film seems to be in a genre all its own, and I hope there are more like it to come. Even if it does quietly break our hearts.
“Dad, there’s no real magic in the world, right?”