Before trilogy director Richard Linklater brought pillow talk back with a healthy dose of nostalgia and the feels in Boyhood. The film’s intrigue factor is its long running cast and filming, famously spanning its storyline over twelve years and using the same actors in their aging element. But this happens to be the cherry on top of a demure yet poignant picture of an American family’s slice of life.
The film’s style is branded immediately with its opening scene: a blue sky peeks through eye-candy clouds and the camera zooms out from baby-faced Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) lying on the grass, looking up, a bit too serious for a six year-old. Right away, there is no doubt this is an introspection-heavy movie. But the introspection lies in the parlance of complete normalcy. In Boyhood, we see Mason Jr. go through stages of life in between images of sharing his rock collection with his Peter Pan-complexed father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), fighting with his older sister (Linklater’s own daughter Lorelei Linklater) the way siblings do as his endlessly patient mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) – though at her wit’s end – carries them through house after house, drunk ex-husband after drunk ex-husband, mediocre job to better job up until Mason’s high school graduation.
The poignancy is not displayed by some dramatic performance art of acting; there is no hook or turnaround event that caps off the crescendo used by most films to ignite the feels. There are, however, parental moments, as Mason and Lorelei are preached on life lessons by Ethan Hawke in true Ethan Hawke style – esoteric, self- righteous without pretentiousness – on everything from voting for “anyone but Bush” to practicing safe sex. There are cuddly moments with Olivia in bed reading to her kids. There are fearful moments as husband/stepfather number two thrashes plates about at family dinner, acting out in a rage of mid-life domestic suffocation. There are moments of rites of passage; there are moments of loneliness; there are moments of questions asked, answers received yet not fully understood – the rest up to Mason to discover on his own.
If Boyhood makes you feel like you’re watching parts of your own life in feature movie form, that’s because it’s the closest thing a director’s come to doing just that. Baby fat is shed, weight is gained, hair is dyed. Hearts are broken, rock star dreams dissolve, loneliness looms. And snippets of nostalgia serve a satisfying, reverberating hum along with the life-goes-on element throughout the film: Harry Potter book night! The Obama-Biden campaign! Flip phones! Dragon Ball Z! Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance! America! May we all keep watching movies that take us back to the smaller – ultimately grander – moments of our lives.
Written by Dara Kim