The Hippo


Apr 26, 2019









Film reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

 You’ve probably heard the story of this film: For 12­-some years, Linklater and his cast filmed a boy’s life story starring Ellar Coltrane, playing the main character Mason; Patricia Arquette, playing his mom Olivia; Ethan Hawke, playing his dad Mason Sr., and Linklater’s real-life daughter Lorelei Linklater, playing Samantha, Mason’s sister. The movie begins in the aftermath of the break­up of Mason and Samantha’s parents’ marriage and ends with Mason arriving at college.

The movie was filmed for a few days at a time over the years. No aging make­up or subbed out actors here — Ellar Coltrane is literally aging, Mason goes from (in the movie) 6 to 18 (in real life, Wikipedia says Coltrane was 7 at the time shooting began). When filming started in 2002, Ethan Hawke was post-Training Day but pre-Before Sunrise (the Part 2 in the eventual Linklater trilogy that started in 1995). Arquette was nearly a decade beyond True Romance but still a few years before her starring role on the TV show Medium. Both actors were in what could be called their early 30s when filming started and were in their mid­-40s when it ended. Just the differences in their faces and voices between the movie’s opening scenes and its closing ones are fascinating.
The movie’s plot is, as the title advertises, Mason’s boyhood — kind of a perfect way to categorize this time in his life since it starts after his babyhood and toddler days are behind him and ends just as he is entering the adult world. Mason’s earliest scenes are the most boy­ish. He runs around the neighborhood with a friend and fights with his sister Samantha and worries to his mom that his dad won’t be able to find them if they move to Houston. (I didn’t catch what town they started in and there are no establishing title cards letting you know year or location. In fact, in the early years, it’s easy to miss the jumps in time, at first. Often, it was the slight changes to Mason’s hair that clued me in to the fact that we’d jumped time and the song on the soundtrack that gave me some general sense of what year we were in.)
We meet Mason Sr. a while (a year or so, I think) later, when he picks up the kids at Olivia’s mother’s house after school and takes them to the bowling alley. It’s the first time they’ve seen him in more than a year. He lived in Alaska for a while and has clearly been an inconsistent presence in their lives. In the movie’s earliest years, there are little hints that Mason Sr. and Olivia might be able to patch things up and get back together. Or rather, we adults in the audience know they won’t reconcile but the movie gives us a sense of how the lack of a definitive “we’re never getting back together” might leave Mason Jr. and Samantha hoping their parents still have a chance.
The definitive answer comes when, a while later, Olivia introduces Mason to the professor in one of her psychology classes. Bill (Marco Perella) and Olivia have more than a student-­teacher relationship, we and Mason realize. The next scene shows Mason and Samantha and Bill’s similar-aged children, Mindy (Jamie Howard) and Randy (Andrew Villareal), playing together as they wait for Bill and Olivia, whom they all start calling mom and dad, to come home from their honeymoon.
Mason Sr., who has remained in his kids’ lives, continues to pick them up for every other weekend. We see the difference between the orderly (and increasingly tension-­filled) life the kids have at Bill’s house and the still somewhat adolescent life that Mason Sr. leads.
The families move around Texas, people play a big role in Mason’s life and then abruptly depart, the parents have their own life changes. In one of the movie’s final scenes, Arquette’s character, getting ready to send Mason off to college, breaks down crying saying something like “I thought there’d be more,” talking about her life but also her life with Mason. (The end of his boyhood is, in some ways, the end of her motherhood, or at least an end of her era of ever-­present parenting. It’s an example of the movie’s ability to give us glimpses into the emotional life of other characters while still keeping the focus on Mason’s point of view.) It sort of sums up the movie perfectly — it’s two hours and 44 minutes long and somehow still you want there to be more. And that quality, that movie­-as-­life, life-­as-­movie quality, is also the hallmark of Boyhood. It’s kind of about nothing with plenty of side ­stories left unresolved and yet it’s also kind of about everything and perhaps the unresolved nature of things is the point. The events are arranged to give us Mason’s point of view but in a way that lets you see the possible other versions of the story if it were told by Olivia or Mason Sr. or Samantha. It is full of scenes that seem unnecessary (Mason and a buddy looking through what appears to be a Sears catalog for pictures of women in their underwear, Mason dressed up in Hogwarts finery to pick up his copy of Harry Potter and the Half­-Blood Prince) and yet all of these little pieces are really what make the movie, just as all these moments are what makes up Mason’s, well, boyhood.
Boyhood is likely a better project than it is a movie, more of an experience than a tight piece of narrative. The very fact that you are seeing these actors age along with the characters and getting little chunks of life (theirs but also of cultural life, as Coldplay’s “Yellow” is followed by the Iraq War and then Facebook and then Obama) is part of the fun. But the gimmick never completely overtakes the movie. The performances (of the core trio of Arquette, Hawke and Coltrane in particular) always bring you back to the people, even if the atmospherics offer up nostalgia or irony. Like all things life-­related, Boyhood is far greater than even its most significant moments. A
Rated R for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use. Written and directed by Richard Linklater, Boyhood is two hours and 44 minutes long and distributed by IFC Films.
As seen in the August 7, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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