“Boyhood” is a great, big,
sprawling epic of a film, with some transitions so seamless that they startle
you with their opaqueness, but like most grandly self-conscious
tour-de-force-type groundbreakers, it sometimes bogs down in its own idiom.
Nonetheless, there’s never been anything like
it. And maybe never will be again.
Director Richard Linklater decided
to take one five-year-old boy, Ellar Coltrane, and follow him every year until
he was 18. Yes,
he grows up before our eyes.
He’s named Mason in this movie, and his
fictional family consists of his Mom, Patricia Arquette, and Dad, Ethan Hawke,
along with Mason’s older sister, named Samantha, but who is actually
Linklater’s own daughter, Lorelei.
The casting works great.
We wind up caring about all of them, though some,
of course, are more lovable than others.
Some of the Great American
Transition Points are, sadly, fairly typical:
Dad just disappears for a while, and works some
odd jobs trying to “find himself.”
Says he hopes Mom might consider taking him back.
She, of course, has long since dismissed him as
too immature, anyway, but then becomes one of those frazzled, overworked,
has-to-do-it-all kind of single Moms who doesn’t seem to have much help. Or
many friends. Worse,
she’s so desperate to improve her personal situation that she enrolls in
college only to fall in love with her first professor, who turns out to be a
drunken control freak. So
much for wanting a good male role model for her children.
(His own two children actually make for
compatible buddies for her own, but the inevitable breakup means the end of
that not-so-blended family.)
Through the several moves, and the
never very comfortable financial situation, Mason makes a number of
friends---boys he can ride bicycles with---and they do slightly naughty
things, like spray-paint graffiti on concrete overpasses.
This actually teaches Mason that he has a little
artistic talent, which eventually morphs into a fascination with photography.
His sister goes through her Goth stage, while Mom
grows increasingly shrill and controlling, which is only ameliorated by her
postgraduate ambitions, which makes her so busy and exhausted that she
doesn’t really have that much time to micromanage the kids.
This turns out to be both good and
bad for the now-teenaged siblings.
They enjoy some freedom to spend time with
the lack of parental supervision opens the door for them to experiment in some
underage drinking, and even a little pot smoking, before they’re even out of
high school. And
though the sexual scenes are thankfully not explicit, still, it’s
disconcerting to even watch that being suggested with underage teens.
True, it’s probably something that happens
frequently in our culture.
But typical Presbyterian parents and grandparents
are hoping it’s not happening in our families.
Some parts are poignant (like
Dad’s conversation with Mason about what interests girls----listen to
them!-----and admonishing his daughter to use condoms (“Oh, Dad, this is so
to his credit, tries very hard to continue to be active in his kids’ lives,
taking them bowling and camping and yes, hanging out in his grungy bachelor
one point he pulls over in his classic GTO and explains to his kids that when
he asks about their school, he needs something more than the classic grunts
and one-word answers. Fittingly,
they respond by also telling him that he needs to be more revealing about his
life, and his feelings, too.
Eventually, he finds another woman, whose parents
live in the country and are into fundamentalist religion and hunting, not
necessarily in that order.
It ends with Mason off at college, which, of
course, isn’t the end of his story, but is, probably, the conclusion of his
So, we are alternately fascinated,
interested, bored, alarmed, and offended, and we’re not sure whether to
laugh, cry, applaud, mock, criticize, complain, or compliment.
Maybe all at the same time.
Or each in its own turn.
Because, turn, turn, turn, for everything
there’s a season, and time for every purpose under heaven. (Ecclesiastes
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister,
St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,