Mason has a clear gaze when we first see him on his back staring at the sky. His mother has just met with his teacher who told her that he ruined her pencil sharpener by cramming rocks into it. “I wanted to see if it could sharpen the rocks,” he explains. He forgets to hand in his homework which the teacher sometimes finds crumpled up in the bottom of his backpack “She never asked for it,” he says.
Mason’s parents are divorced. Olivia and Mason Sr., played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, try to instill in the boy a sense of his own worth, and it is clear that they love him, and want to help him have a good life. The boy grows up in front of our eyes, literally, since the director had the brilliant idea to continue to film with the same actors over a period of 12 years, from the time that Mason is six, until he is on his way to college at eighteen.
Just because an idea is brilliant however does not mean that the movie succeeds completely. There are languors during which I thought of my own life, which is probably the point of the movie. But somehow the very loose structure feels too slack. Even though there are some great scenes, for example when a very young Mason asks his father if elves exist, or when Samantha, his sister, gets a lecture in a public place about how not to get pregnant, the film’s lack of structure makes its nearly three hours seem longer than it actually is.
The scenes with the teen girlfriend aren’t interesting. She is typical high school material. Mason is not. I want him to have more interesting conversations. He does say some memorable things, particularly about technology. And at one especially poignant moment, Mason learns that his father has sold his car, a black Pontiac GTO , that he thought would be his once he got his license. I had gotten sort of attached to the car, too, and felt just as much betrayed as Mason at the cavalier way it was sold out from under him.
Perhaps the director just didn’t want to lose any of the footage he gained with his painstaking process, but I wish Boyhood were an hour shorter, and that Sheena (the girlfriend) was only referred to. Still, the movie is an authentic accomplishment. I admire the way Linklater has developed a body of work that treats everyday people’s every day lives.
Here is a link to a Slate article that explains the process Linklater used to make it.