Childhood is made up of little moments that get all strung together, like Christmas lights. The new (2014) film Boyhood by director Richard Linklater will make you reflect on your own childhood, and your own journey as a parent. The film is unusual in that it has the same cast, but was filmed over 12 years. We get an intimate view of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) growing up from age 5 to age 18. This film is not to be missed as it brings all of it to you from the child's view.
The story includes many ordinary days, as Mason deals with his parent's divorce, bullies at school, moving and leaving friends, a bad haircut, horrible stepparents, first love, heartbreak, a sometimes difficult sister, camping with Dad, Mom dating, first days at new schools, and a first job. You get to witness Mason growing up, with all the physical and emotional changes he goes through in those 12 years of childhood. Mason is beautifully played by Coltrane. The director's daughter, Lorelei Linklater, is wonderful and very natural as his sometimes annoying sister.
The film is touching. It reminded me of how vulnerable children are to whatever other stressors and challenges are going on in their parents' lives. Children are trying to grow up amidst the drama, changes and challenges. It reminds us as parents to keep our children's childhood as stable as we possibly can, and to be as present as we can no matter what unexpected things come up.
In Mason's case, his mom (Patricia Arquette) is a struggling single parent, trying to finish her education and provide some stability for her two children. The results are often chaotic, as she completes her education but her poor relationship choices impact both her and the children. The family moves multiple times, and the film captures the loss and longing the children feel as they watch the old home disappear from the car windows as they drive away, leaving behind friends each time.
Arquette is superb as Mason's mother. She loves the children, but is busily multi-tasking her education, financial struggle and problematic love life the whole time the children are growing up. She always thought she had more time, but suddenly Mason is heading off to college. She wonders aloud about what's left for her with the children gone. How can childhood be over so soon?
Ethan Hawke does a wonderful job portraying Mason's sometimes immature but loving father. Early in the film, Hawke is irresponsible and often missing. Later he visits the children more frequently, and tries to condense his fathering life lessons into his every other weekend with his son and daughter. The film captures some authentic moments where he tries to get the kids to share more and open up, talks with them about sexual responsibility, discusses breakups and love relationships, and teaches them (while bowling) that in life there are no bumpers.
There are some bittersweet moments that feel honest as dad thanks mom at Mason's graduation party for doing a great job raising him mostly on her own. Dad seems to evolve over the twelve years we follow him, and it seems sad that the timing was off and that he didn't evolve earlier so that they could have raised the children together. Just like in real life, it's a lot about timing sometimes. It also reminds us that while parents can divorce, parenting continues and it's better for the children if you can accept whatever positive contributions the other parent can make.
The unique way in which this film is made and edited over such a long span of time allows us to remember these years,too. We see Mason attend a Harry Potter book release signing all dressed up and excited to get his book. We see him go with his sister to plant yard signs for Obama/Biden and help steal a McCain sign at Dad's direction. The film is edited and mixed with songs from these same years, from Coldplay to Arcade Fire. It will make you remember these years, too.
Boyhood is a must see film, which will remind you of how swiftly both childhood and parenting passes, and to make the most of all the little, ordinary days with our children. As difficult and overwhelming as parenting can be, you will miss this chapter when it is gone. It's beautiful the way this film artfully captures the internal emotional experiences of childhood. It's a rare opportunity to watch a skilled ensemble of actors age gradually and be invited into their maturing. It made me reflect on my own childhood memory fragments, and made me wistful about how swiftly my girls grew up into the adult women I love.