Unless you’ve been living under a rock or in some sort of cultural hibernation all summer, you’ve at least heard of Boyhood, Richard Linklater‘s newest film. Boyhood has garnered the kind of unanimous critical acclaim that is usually reserved for long established classics (we’re talking about a 99 % rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 100 on Metacritic), but you probably know real-life people who were less than thrilled. There’s been a lot of buzz regarding Linklater’s experimental use of time: if you know one fact about Boyhood, it’s likely that it took twelve years to film, because Mason, the film’s protagonist, really does grow from six years-old to a college-bound eighteen year-old. I can’t promise you’ll love it like I did, but I will say that if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s worth heading down to the Cable Car Cinema to check it out this week.
Boyhood stars Ellar Coltrane as Mason, Ethan Hawke as his cool, dreamer father, and Patricia Arquette as his strong, equally-cool-but-more- reliable mother. Linklater’s own daughter, Loralei, also grows up before the camera as Mason’s older sister, Samantha. Each summer since 2002, the cast met near Austin, Texas, all of them a year older, and filmed a few more scenes that would amount to another year of Mason’s life. Other than the unique use of time, though, Boyhood‘s premise and plot are not terribly original – in fact, nothing really exciting happens at any point in the film. Sure, Mason’s parents aren’t together and his mom ends up with a few losers, his guitar-playing dad eventually dons a tie, and Mason himself experiences moving cities, liking a girl or two, and teenage angst. But nothing really happens. What is truly engaging about the film is its simple mundaneness, the way it captures the not-that-interesting way we all grew up. It’s the kind of movie that would make my dad say, “What was the point of that?” but made my sister say “I wish someone had made that for me about my life.”
The cool thing about watching Boyhood for us, though, is that it is, sort of, about our lives. Mason is of our generation; in fact, if you are a freshman this year, he is one of your classmates. What plays in the background of his life did for ours too. For example, after taking his son bowling, Mason Sr. (Hawke) tells his eight-year old son not to believe a word his teacher says about Bush or the premises of the Iraq War, and years later, drives him through neighborhoods to steal “Vote for McCain” signs. His senior year of high school, while driving to a college visit, Mason explains deleting his Facebook to his first serious girlfriend, and complains about the disengaged nature of his contemporaries. Music, especially, makes Mason’s life relatable; Linklater strategically surveyed kids our ages about songs they most remembered from each year, and their associated memories. Nostalgic moments pour out of the soundtrack: a young Samantha singing “Baby One More Time” to wake Mason up, Blink-182 playing when he and his friend first look at a porn magazine, and Kings of Leon when he’s driving around town, making out. Mason Sr. draws attention to music every once in a while – the way your dad probably taught you about classic rock – giving Mason his compiled “Black Album” as a graduation gift. (“The Black Album” is a compilation of the best post-Beatles Beatle solo work, which Hawke really did make for his real-life daughter and you can find here. Yes, Ethan Hawke actually is that guy. I know, I want to marry him too.) Don’t think Sr. is too out of touch, though – he also praises Wilco at one point.
Mostly, I liked Boyhood because it made me remember the innate weirdness and simplicity of childhood, the way in which you were completely aware and completely confused. “Dad? There’s no real magic right?” Mason asks his father at one point. Mason Sr. launches into a long speech, about the beauty and strangeness of a rhino’s horn, in comparison with a unicorn, and the way so many things can be called magical, depending on the way you look at them. Clearly unconvinced, but still polite, Mason asks again “But like, this second, there are no elves in the world, right?” I miss thinking like that, because now it’s more typical for me to hear and give an Ethan Hawke-ish answer – not necessarily always optimistic, but always winding, always exploring ‘possibilities,’ a little pointless, and distracting from the issue at hand. When you’re seven or eight, though, there are either elves, or there aren’t.
Boyhood is playing at the Cable Car Cinema at 4:15 p.m. on Tuesday and 6:30 p.m. on Thursday. Don’t miss it.