Friday, July 25, 2014

Growing Up Fast, But Ever So Slowly, In South Texas

Lorelei Linklater as Samantha, Ethan Hawke as Mason Sr. and Ellar Coltrane as Mason in a "selfie" shot, in Richard Linklater's epic drama "Boyhood".
  IFC Films

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, July 25, 2014

"Boyhood", Richard Linklater's 12-year-labor of love, achieves beauty and truth with its blunt edges, earthy transitions and volatile episodes in Texas, Mr, Linklater's home state.  Personal, organic and absorbing, the film tracks the growth and evolution of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) through 12 years of life, from age six.  Raised by a single mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and visited by his father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), Mason is shaped through the lessons and failures of his parents, especially Olivia, whose frequent relationship troubles force continuous, abrupt transitions in Mason's and sister Samantha's (Lorelei Linklater) lives.

Throughout the onscreen turbulence, Mr. Linklater's direction -- he shot "Boyhood" for 12 days a year over 12 years -- is steady, calm and methodical, unfolding at a pedestrian pace that astounds as we see changes in the physical growth of Mason and in the circumstances surrounding him.  The director captures the cultural and political landscape of a Texas he knows so well and has documented before ("Bernie", "Dazed And Confused", etc.) 

Mr. Linklater marks time in generational events, fads, news events -- some of changed America permanently -- as a paradigm and parallel shift with Mason's own transitions from youngster to college-age.  It is often funny to see the artifacts and trends the new millennium had ushered in, and music instantly brings a fondness of memories.  Moments are prized commodities, the film argues, and each and every one of them, no matter how large or small, are to be savored and are instructive.

"Boyhood" shows us a boy's life unfurling as the adults around Mason continuously preach responsibility and direction while themselves falling short in living up to their own mantras.  It's safe to say that at some point the adults in "Boyhood" were exactly where Mason is when they were younger.  Over the years harsh realities have inevitably overcome them, or any idealistic spark they had.  Will Mason, a hopeful diamond in the rough, be where they presently are?  The truth, as one character says late in this near-three-hour epic drama, is "that adults are just as confused and lost as children are." 

That quoted revelation isn't surprising (see this year's "Palo Alto" and countless other films), but the improvisation, deliberation and lack of judgment in Mr. Linklater's film is.  The patience and awareness "Boyhood" has is its best asset.  This amazing film gazes at life and the imperfect human beings in it the way Terrence Malick's brilliant "The Tree Of Life" explored the cosmos and the inestimable wonder it provides.  Mr. Malick's film was also set in Texas, and often seen through the eyes of children, specifically one boy (who transitions to be Sean Penn.)

Often the camera in "Boyhood" takes a child's eye view of the world around Mason and of the parents struggling in it.  Their identities and standing are measured through the kind of children they have reared.  The adults -- whose hypocritical ways are often steeped in the alcohol that punctures a facade of rigorous order, or exhibited in broken promises, or felt through bitter disappointments -- aren't villainous in their conceits or reveals; they're just more experienced, pained and flawed older students than their kids are.  The lessons these adults lecture their children with often work better on unrelated youth, like a house worker who takes Olivia's ragged but sage advice. 

Ms. Arquette is especially good as Olivia, a poverty-stricken single mother trying to keep going amid adversity while encouraging the bratty, entitled Samantha and the cool, stoic Mason to be the best they can be.  Mr. Coltrane demonstrates maturity and poise as Mason, while both Mr. Hawke and Ms. Linklater (the director's daughter) are effortless.  The smaller parts are particularly well-acted, rounding out a film that never preaches or makes you feel completely comfortable.  There's always suspense and a dread that doesn't quite arrive.  The limbo of life is especially effective in "Boyhood", for it is pure and unmanufactured.

"Boyhood" sees a spiritual growth accumulated in Mason's travels and search for meaning in life, through indecision, lack of direction and the tribulations of surrounding adults him.  Things happen to Mason, but often through and around him as he also absorbs the experiences of older teenagers, one of whom calls Mason and other younger boys assembled before him "losers" for spending a Friday night drinking with the elder teen in an abandoned house.  The transitions Mason undergoes are not unlike those we glimpse in Michael Apted's "Up" film series, only the changes in "Boyhood" are less pointed and more matter-of-fact.

What makes "Boyhood" so wondrous and alive, beyond its wisdom, insights, natural acting and startling suddenness, is the prospect that even in its quietest moments, danger, not always of imminent violence, but of life change, can happen at any turn.  This epic film celebrates and authenticates life for what it is: a messy, beautiful and random adventure fraught with decisions, wrong turns, ephemeral glories and certifiable contradictions.  There's no doubt that "Boyhood" is one of the signature and stellar film achievements of the year. 

With: Steven Chester Prince, Marco Perella, Charlie Sexton, Zoe Graham, Roland Ruiz, Cassidy Johnson, Barbara Chisholm, Richard Robichaux, Jennie Tooley, Landon Collier, Jordan Howard, Jennifer Griffin, Brad Hawkins.

"Boyhood" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for language including sexual references and for teen drug and alcohol use.  The film's running time is two hours and 46 minutes.

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