★★★★ / ★★★★
Having seen Michael Apted’s tremendous achievement called the “Up” series, where the same seven-year-olds are interviewed and filmed every seven years so we can learn the many different directions their lives have taken, I was more nervous and anxious than excited to watch Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood.” I was concerned that given the two projects’ similarities, it would be difficult to sit down and absorb Linklater’s work as is without the gnawing need to compare.
It is a most pleasant surprise that “Boyhood” offers enough originality and confidence to separate itself from the aforementioned behemoth of a project. First, the writer-director’s decision not to show title cards designed to tell us what year certain scenes are taking place gives a fluid quality in terms of how the story unfolds. Instead, we are left to our own reference points, from the pop music either playing on the radio or soundtrack to the sorts of technologies characters use in their every day lives.
Without the title cards, we are asked to become active participants: to look a little harder or to listen a bit more closely, to think back on where we were in our lives when those same songs were on the radio and when those same gadgets became fashionable. The film, in a way, works as a time capsule of the early 2000s to the early/mid-2010s.
The picture is not about plot but about growth and the familiar thoughts and sentiments in between. Its magic lies in small truths like how an elder sister (Lorelei Linklater) would purposefully annoy her younger brother, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), so early in the morning by singing Britney’s Spears’ “Oops! …I Did It Again”—just because she can. Further, we are given a chance to look back on feeling inadequate or small because our brother or sister may excel in the very thing that we are not good at. Another example lies in observing Mason Jr. and Samantha trying to get their father’s attention and approval because they have not seen him in years. It touched me on a personal level because it invoked memories of my father coming to visit from America and my brother and I would want to be around him and try to impress him in whatever way.
We observe different types of parenting. As Mason Jr. and Samantha grow over the years, we wonder whether the directions they steered their lives towards could have been attributed to inconsistent parenting. Though their mother (Patricia Arquette) is around, the siblings are familiar to seeing men come and go. Their biological father (Ethan Hawke) who means well, is barely around. He takes them out every other weekend at some point, but the bond between father and child, one might argue, remains tenuous. There is a scene in a car where the father expresses his frustration because he feels his children are not sharing enough about their lives. The script is so well-written that it manages to avoid clichés while still honing in on the message it wishes to convey.
Mason Jr.’s high school years touches upon his lack of direction. He has never been the kid who finished his homework on time and to get straight A’s on his report card. But just because he is not motivated academically, it does not mean he is not passionate. There is an excellent exchange between Mason Jr. and his photography teacher later in the film. In my opinion, it is a scene that young people at that age (and perhaps younger) ought to see and really think about—even though they may not want to do either.
Mr. Turlington (Tom McTigue) makes a point that there are a lot of talented people in the world. But just because one is talented does not necessarily mean that he or she will amount to anything without discipline, commitment, and having a really good work ethic. It made me think about my own life. This scene is not strictly applicable to talent.
When I was in high school, I thought people who would become the most successful were the “smart” ones—you know, those in the debate team, those who won a bunch of awards and other forms of recognition during graduation, those who had grade point averages above 4.0. In reality, who, in my eyes, ended up most successful? My peers who are not just smart, but the ones who are no stranger to hard work, highly adaptable, those who have lively personalities and drawing people in effortlessly. The most successful people are those who are able to bring something to the table that nobody else can.
“Boyhood” captures the attention not just because there is a gimmick involving picking a child and putting him in front of the camera for a couple of days throughout the years. It offers insight by pinpointing its characters’ imperfections and challenging us to relate and sympathize with them because we have walked or might one day walk in their shoes. The film inspires us to look back in the past, but it also aims to broaden our horizons.