In looking for meaning behind our existence or reasons behind patterns of behaviour we exhibit, it's natural to look to one's childhood and attempt to find the actions or events that shaped us. Whatever else one might say about Richard Linklater's 2014 film Boyhood, it can't be denied that it is a remarkable achievement. In casting the same actors to portray characters at different ages--in scenes shot only when the actors themselves are of the corresponding ages--for a partially improvised project that spanned twelve years, and then for the resulting film to be even halfway thematically cohesive, is an achievement. But Boyhood comes together in an effective portrait of the essential mystery of growing up and finding one's way in life generally.
Several aspects of the story are cliché--the divorced parents, the dad who's too wild for the mother who wants to get practical to raise the kids, the string of abusive boyfriends she replaces him with. But just because it's cliché doesn't mean it doesn't happen and the nature of the film lends some weight to these things. One of the things I liked about the film is that in transitioning from one stage of the characters' lives to another--which aren't separated by title cards or any obvious buffer--the film avoids most conventional landmarks; the first day at school, the first time someone falls in love, etcetera. The segments jump into the middle and the characters hit the ground running each time. We get a sense of who the people are and we draw our own conclusions as to why they are who they are or have become those people.
Linklater was fortunate in finding actors not only willing to do the project--due to the projected length they weren't legally allowed to sign contracts--but who also ended up being decent enough actors. The two kids at the centre of the film are Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater, the latter being the director's daughter. They play siblings Mason and Samantha, beginning the film at six and eight years old, respectively, and ending it at eighteen and twenty.
As the title suggests, the film is more focused on Coltrane's character, but it's interesting seeing Lorelei Linklater change as well, going from a typically hyperactive little girl who likes to tease her brother to an emotionally walled off young woman.
Mason seems significantly less emotive by the end than he did at the beginning, too, though the change isn't quite as pronounced because he starts off quieter. But since I read that Linklater managed the project partly by adapting it to what was going on in the lives of the actors, I felt like I might be seeing something more like children growing up in Hollywood rather than the suburban Texas the film depicts. Indeed, the point of view of filmmakers creeps into much of the film. Only the first segment really feels like it comes from outside the Hollywood experience as we watch young Mason play under a bridge with his friends or examine a dead bird he finds behind a trailer.
Something about these scenes have the feel of real childhood experiences, the relationship between the children and their mother--played by Patricia Arquette--has just the right tone of sensitive pride and needs from every party.
Their father is played by Ethan Hawke and it was interesting seeing the two famous actors change as well--or pretty much not change much at all in Hawke's case. Arquette goes from the sort of soft spoken siren of Lost Highway to being a slightly brassier lady with a penchant for blazers.
It almost simulates a real childhood when we examine Mason's parents along with him as he views them as models for how to be an adult. Hawke's character seems possessed of a little more basic wisdom--which is part of the character type he is, as the more wild one there's an instinctive screenplay law that he must also ultimately be the more insightful. But I liked a scene near the end where Mason observes that really his parents seem about as clueless as he is.