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Boy Hood is experimental movie over a 12 year period

Boyhood: Cumulative Effect

by Sandra Olmsted

Growing up is the cumulative effect of natural, health body processes and the experience the world writes on an individual, and that’s what writer/director Richard Linklater captures in his experiment in filmmaking, Boyhood. Filmed over 12 years, but, reportedly, for a low-budget-esque total of 39 days, Boyhood uses the same actors and actresses for the family at the center of the story and, thus, becomes a fascinating chronicle of aging and maturing, not just of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), the title character in the film, but his entire family. Mason has a slightly older sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), who is both a sisterly confidant and tormentor while maturing along side Mason, and, with a slightly different edit, the film could have been called Girlhood just as easily.    Their divorced parents, Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), married young and for the wrong reasons, leaving mom with two kids, an absent ex-husband, and few prospects as the film opens. She soon decides to move the kids closer to her grandmother (Libby Villari) and a college she will attend. Apparently, dad hasn’t been providing much child support, emotionally or financially.

In many ways, the most sympathetic character in the film is not Mason, but Olivia because of her struggles negotiating the problems of being a single parent. Love doesn’t come easily for her with two children who must be supported, and she goes through two more marriages during the film. Samantha, on the other hand, comes off as the least sympathetic of the characters and seems to be an obnoxious teen from the age of eight. Despite his admonishment to his kids that he doesn’t want to be the father who shows up, buys them things, and takes them places, that is exactly who Mason, Sr. is. Sure, he’s great with his kids for an overnight visit every other weekend, but the practical, day-to-day of raising children eludes him. When he remarries, however, he takes another shot at it by having another son.

One scene that especially made little sense involves Mason’s step-grandfather, aka Mason, Sr.’s new father-in-law, giving Mason an heirloom shotgun when it should be going to his own daughter’s son. The shotgun scene points up the contrivance involved in the film’s story. Olivia’s marriage to a professor seems a realistic turn of events, but her marriage to a student doesn’t. Furthermore, Arquette’s all too earnest style of acting feels less realistic than it did in her TV show Medium; her acting here is serviceable, but not outstanding. Coltrane’s portrayal of Mason makes the character an introvert, perhaps too much so. Lorelei Linklater, asked to be little else besides difficult and snotty, exudes a certain realism, but her character is flat. Hawke, at least as “scripted,” grows as a character, but, as with much of all the characters’ changes, growth happens off-screen.

The film, consequently, feels like an annual visit from distant relatives who have lots of problems.      However, Boyhood is fun to watch for time changes indicated by Coltrane/Mason suddenly being older. The way Linklater tells the story, via small episode from each year, provides a delicious feeling of voyeurism. Much of the camerawork shows the world from young Mason’s perspective, so, the audience get comfortable with observing the world through his eyes. Sometimes the most important in terms of plot, sometimes only a moment that Linklater expects the audience to contextualize as pivotal in Mason’s development, the episodes reveal predictable stages in Mason’s life, such as looking at bra ads or camping with his dad.

The meandering tale contain little bits of suspense, but nothing really unpredictable because plot turns play out to logical conclusions each time; however, rarely does a film so evenhandedly chronicle the process of growing up. On the other hand, aside from the novelty of filming it over 12 years, there really isn’t anything particularly special about Boyhood and its male version of a Lifetime movie’s emotionalism. The hardships of divorce and going between parents, who struggle to find their own chaotic way through life, come off as trite and cliché as any other coming-of-age film. Linklater includes a scene which again raises the question of why (why, why???) must all male bonding in film be reduced to men urinating, as if that’s the only common thread that connects men to one another.

Despite his film’s problems, Boyhood captures the realism of life, and Linklater directed an one-hundred and sixty-five minute experimental film that an audience can actually enjoy. Neither is a small feat, and his perseverance and faith in his grand experiment deserves an audience. Released by IFC Films, Boyhood is in theaters now and runs an extended 165 minutes; although it is rated R for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use, several scenes involve domestic violence should be mentioned. Overall, Boyhood grows on you and is worth seeing. ###

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