Negative criticism is fun to write. It leaves us with an air of self-satisfaction, and from the safety our position accords, it allows us to poke fun at someone else’s vision; an opportunity we grasp at as critics.
But to fall in love with a film is the greatest treasure offered by cinema. It’s the mesmerizing and enchanting feeling that leaves us spellbound and in awe, and is what drives us to continue to watch films. No such negative criticism should be embellished upon Richard Linklater’s coming-of-age drama, for it’s a peerless effort that stands alone.
Boyhood follows the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from age five to eighteen, where we live and breathe his experiences from boyhood through adolescence. We see him bicker often with his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), and join him right through his relatable teenage episodes that seem as real as the grooves in the palms of your hands. Filmed over twelve years, and lovingly sutured together, Richard Linklater’s vision transforms into reality. It’s almost as if we are offered snippets of Ellar Coltrane’s life itself – as throughout the film we digest moments that transcend the fiction he stars in. His voice breaks, he grows up, he finds love – and like all of us do, he attempts to make sense of it all. But as Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) informs him, it’s not so much a question, but a lesson learned in time. And as anyone who is familiar with Linklater’s work may notice, time is a theme the director himself finds perplexing, and often revisits (a case in point being the ‘Before’ trilogy).
Mason Sr. also figures into the transition of his son from boyhood to man, though he has limited contact with his children when they are young. He moves from job to job, trying his best to be parent, but he often stumbles through life. His experiences don’t conform to any plan – his disposition is built from his experiences, but he’s always moving through life, much like his son’s journey to college.
Still, there is more to the story than simply Mason’s experiences. Olivia, (Patricia Arquette) his mother, is a central figure throughout the story as well. She makes numerous mistakes in her time, and in motherhood we learn she experiences many things that Mason could not comprehend. The stepping-stones of her life are behind her; marriage, divorce, and motherhood – and whilst she still remains a mother, she experiences the plight of having her children leaving the nest and is left pondering the questions of what lies ahead
There is no road map to life; it’s a series of comings and goings, an odyssey of adventures that consistently shape you, and through the suffering and the blessings, your fully formed self is habitually re-ignited from the confounding maelstrom. I only wish that Mason’s life is revisited in a later film. I think we’d all be richer for it.