This movie has a very interesting concept: a coming-of-age story filmed with the same actors over the course of 12 years in order to actually show a boy growing up. The movie tells the story of Mason Jr. growing up from the age of 6 to the age of 18. It is a fictional story, but all of the same actors are used for the characters, and footage across this 12 year period of the boy actually growing older is pieced together to make this movie, Boyhood.
It is a very interesting approach to film, and I respect the director (Richard Linklater) for his patience and commitment to this idea. It is said that his idea for this movie was to try to capture all the little moments over the years that happen that allow a boy to grow up, rather than a few dramatic moments that happen years apart. The film was very well-received, nominated for five Golden Globes (winning Best Motion Picture in Drama, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actress) and for six Academy Awards (winning Best Supporting Actress); Linklater also won the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. I imagine Linklater must have taken many, many hours of footage over the years that had to be shaved down to the two and a half hour film. Also, while editing, the director would not be able to go back in time to re-film or film additional scenes with the actors at the right age. Given these challenges, I have respect for this movie and the director.
However, overall, I found this movie to be disappointing.
The most disappointing part of the movie was the portrayal of the mother at the end of the movie. The mother is a young, single mother who goes back to school to pursue and achieve a career that can support her children. She also has the strength to leave an abusive relationship and start over somewhere else. This is very admirable and shows how much children mean to a mother. The movie, however, goes on to have her soon marry and divorce another mean man, and ends with her having a breakdown in front of her son about how little she has done with her life and how alone she is. I realize this movie titled “Boyhood” is about the boy Mason Jr. growing up, but I would’ve liked to have seen a sense of self-worth from the mother who has a lot to be proud of at the end of the film. In an interview with the actors, Patricia Arquette (Mason Jr.’s mother, and winner of a Golden Globe and Academy Award for this film) reveals that she was also a young, single mother, so I am even more confused why the director chose to end the mother’s story arc with her weak and feeling like she needs a man in her life, rather than strong and proud of what she has accomplished for herself and provided for her children. In contrast, the father is portrayed as cool, caring, and the emotionally supportive parent who teaches the kids about life and love while the mother is too busy worrying about money. (Of course, as a responsible single mother, she is worried about money!) The father seems to pay a bit of child support and he offers one time to chip in for the son’s large graduation party, but then doesn’t actually because he doesn’t have any cash on him.
My other criticism of the film is that it ambitiously tries to cover 12 years of a family’s life, so a lot is included in the movie that may not be followed up on. For example, there is one scene of Mason Jr. being bullied, some scenes of random girls talking to him at parties, and one scene of 15-year-old Mason Jr. coming home high and drunk. I suppose these scenes are experiences that may happen during adolescence, but since we don’t see how the characters respond to these situations, I don’t know what significance or growth any of the characters gain from them. Also, what happens to the other children of the abusive man? I hope they are able to find a good home since they are never mentioned again. Throughout the movie, the audience may also wonder where the movie is going. Various somewhat non-dramatic events happen one after another and seem to build up to the drug-induced musings of an adolescent boy, which seems like a weird way to end a coming-of-age story. Coming-of-age stories normally have the main character maturing or finding themselves; however, Mason Jr. seems pretty lost and restless still at the end of the movie (regarding his career choice in photography, his sexuality and view of love, or what responsibilities he has) and I am sure his personal growth in his next few years in college and after graduating will be even greater than the 12 years shown in the movie. Given today’s society, many adolescents don’t enter “the real world” as young adults until after they graduate from college or are able to find a job that allows them to be independent from their parents.
As a side note, President Obama revealed in an interview that Boyhood was his favorite movie of 2014. The scenes in the middle of the movie showing strong support for Obama during the 2008 elections might be why!