In the final moments of writer-director Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, the boy’s mother (Patricia Arquette) nearly shouts, “I just thought there would be more!” Her son Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is about to leave for college, and Mom (as she’s known throughout the movie) is facing empty nest syndrome.
It’s a telling moment, and it triggers several thoughts. Perhaps Mom sees her youth fading in her son’s imminent departure, and she’s lamenting having spent the better part of her young adulthood sacrificing her happiness in order to raise Mason and his older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater).
Or maybe she means she thought she’d have more time with her children, that, like many parents, she thinks life is happening too quickly. Her youngest child is nearing adulthood—and her identity, as it has become, is changing.
Perhaps it’s Linklater’s tacit acknowledgment that the audience may feel hoodwinked. There isn’t much to Boyhood. As stories go, it’s about as deep as watching your next-door neighbor grow up.
In fact, there’s nothing so special about Boyhood. A kid is 6, and then he’s 7. And then he’s 8. Before long he’s 18 and leaving home, confused about what life means, but willing to go along for the ride. He and his sister spend weekends with their father (a wonderful and firing-on-all-thrusters Ethan Hawke). And there’s Mom’s crappy second and third marriages. And there’s teenage drinking and smoking pot and bonding and the first girlfriend and all the banality of life wrapped up in 164 minutes.
Yet Boyhood is magnificent, and the banality is charming. Imagine the hubris of making the same movie for 12 years with the same cast, as Linklater has, and not doing it as a documentary. Linklater had to assume he’d still be a viable filmmaking force from start to finish for anyone to care about this project. And imagine the sell—a movie with the same cast made for 12 years, during which nothing much happens.
But as in life, everything happens during that nothingness. The tiniest things can have a lasting impact, as when Mason finds a dead bird in the alley behind his house, or when a female classmate tells him a friend has a crush on him, or when Mason and his father spend a long weekend camping.
Nothing would work without a captivating lead, and Coltrane is up to the challenge. It’s hard to say whether he does any acting in the early scenes—the segments during which Mason is younger than 10 are brief. But as Coltrane ages, Mason becomes more rounded, letting his personality become quietly forceful, as when he blows off the second drunk stepfather, or when he questions the wisdom of his father marrying a devout churchgoer.
Boyhood has been compared to Michael Apted’s Up series, and even to Hoop Dreams, and it’s more reserved, but no less ambitious. Its aspirations lie in capturing the everyday, even the boring stuff.
In the end, there’s nothing quite like Boyhood, and I wanted more. Perhaps Linklater has enough footage to edit the sister’s side of the story and is on the verge of releasing Girlhood.
Directed by Richard Linklater
With Coltrane, Arquette, and Hawke