Putin. Gaza. Ebola. ISIS. Ferguson. Robin Williams. This has been one of the more unsettling summers in recently memory. However, as we head towards Labor Day and I look back on the last couple of months, what I recall most clearly and fondly (besides some personal and family matters that are irrelevant here) is watching Boyhood, by director Richard Linklater.
The film stars Ellar Coltrane as Mason, who is 6 at the beginning of the story. We watch as he grows year by year into an 18 year-old young man. Forget all those gimmicky 3D movies; this is a 4D film, where the genuine passage of 12 years of time adds an extra dimension that cannot be faked by CG.
Boyhood succeeds in capturing something about the essence of our times when it comes to parenting and childhood. The parents have split, and the dad, played by Ethan Hawke, is barely around initially, only occasionally swooping into his kids lives like a tornado of fun. Meanwhile, the mom (Patricia Arquette) struggles to raise her children while trying to go back to school so her family could break free from the struggles of low-wage America.
Amazingly, the director found a young actor in Coltrane who was able to deliver a consistently convincing performance from childhood to adolescence. The film opens with him lying on the grass staring into the sky, leaving us to wonder what he makes of life. Coltrane was able to project this introspective nature throughout, and as a young man engages in the kind of philosophical discussions that Linklater's characters are known to do.
However, Boyhood is as much a coming of age movie about Mason's parents as it is about Mason's own journey. I found it interesting that the adults seemed to be engaged in a search for identity as much or more so than the children. The character who evolves the most over the 12 years is Mason's father, who becomes a minivan-driving, church-going actuary in middle age. Mason's mother ends up as a somewhat tragic figure who has to balance her career with parenting while dealing with a string of bad relationships. Our culture really is harder on women, and this film reflects that reality.
Boyhood has been the best reviewed movie of the summer and deservedly so. One may look at the box office receipts for the latest Transformers assault on the senses ($243.8M) vs. Boyhood ($16.3M) and despair; I choose to see the fact that this movie was made at all as a sign that there is still hope.