In 2002, Richard Linklater began a film project that centered on six-year old Ellar Coltrane as Mason, the young son of a divorced couple. Mom (Patricia Arquette) is raising the boy, and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), alone but his dad (Ethan Hawke) shows up at inconvenient time driving into town in his beloved jet black 1972 Pontiac GTO. This does not sound too remarkable until you realize that the cast and crew, in front of and behind the camera, have been working on “Boyhood” for 12 years!
Laura's Review: A-
Siblings 6 year-old Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and 9 year-old Samantha (Linklater's daughter Lorelei) have the usual up and down relationship in a quiet Texas suburb where they live with their single mom Olivia (Patricia Arquette, "True Romance"). A move to Houston reconnects them with their dad, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke, "Before Midnight"), a struggling musician returned from a stint in Alaska whom Olivia regards as irresponsible. But over the course of twelve years, dad will turn into a family man with a minivan while mom becomes a respected college professor who's struggled through two more failed marriages. As he sets off for college, we've shared in the moments - rites of passage, the everyday and the joys and sorrows of Mason's "Boyhood." Writer/director Richard Linklater has observed the influence of time with his "Before" trilogy, but his latest is something else again, an unparalleled production (backed by IFC Films) filmed yearly over the course of twelve years using the same central cast. It's an extraordinary achievement, one which will have you reflecting on your own life, all those moments big and small, many of which represented crossroads you may not have seen at the time. School is an important element as we see Olivia's frustration over her obviously bright young son's failure to turn in homework to her own attempts at betterment with college courses (which lead her to her second husband, Professor Bill Welbrock (Marco Perella, "Infamous," terrific)). There is a wonderful scene of one of those teachers who make a difference when Mr. Turlington (Tom McTigue, "The Descendants") advises Mason that his love of the darkroom must be balanced with an adherence to assignments if he ever hopes to make a living with photography. Later, Mason and his first real girlfriend, April (Jessie Tilton), will get a taste of college life when they stay at Sam's dorm in Austin (April, however, is gone by Mason's Senior Prom). Some people, like Grandma (Libby Villari, "Boys Don't Cry"), are around for Mason's whole childhood, while others, like step siblings Mindy (Jamie Howard) and Randy Welbrock (Andrew Villarreal), become close for a time, then vanish when Olivia gathers her kids to get away from alcoholism and abuse. The focus on Mason's parents gradually fades as he begins to become more and more his own person, but they're always there and ever changing, dad remarrying and settling as an insurance agent (while still keeping a hand in music through his former roommate, who's made it bigger than he ever could), his new in-laws repping a new set of 'grandparents' while mom counters her career success with another bad, brief marriage. The film makes us aware of just how much time we spend driving around. It's dotted with events like the excitement over the midnight release of the latest Harry Potter, camping trips with dad who is a bigger influence in Mason's life than Olivia may realize (Hawke is heartbreaking in a late scene, telling his son that had she had more patience with him, he would have turned into the man she needed). Their messy but effective parenting is cast against the cruel and embarrassing behavior of Welbrock, who gets his kids to buy his booze when he's too drunk to get out of the car or Olivia's third husband, an Iraq vet who tries to bully Mason into respecting his position (when that marriage fails, Olivia has a scene parallel to Hawke's, telling her son she thought there would be more to life). We see the far reaching effects of small kindnesses when Enrique (Roland Ruiz, "Contraband"), a man who fixes Olivia's sewer pipe, spies her years later as a restaurant manager, having followed her encourage advice to seek an education. Music covers the years, beginning with Sam's annoying her brother with a spirited cover of Brittany's "Oops, I Did It Again," to Coldplay and Arcade Fire songs and Mason Sr.'s birthday gift to his now teenaged son of his own 'Black Album,' an arranged compilation of solo Beatles' numbers. The finale is a moment of grace, Mason accepting an invitation on his first day at college from three kids one can sense may be life long friends to go on a hike. Out in nature, one is reminded of Mason Sr., and after the kids smoke some pot and converse on life's larger meanings we hear Mason's last words, 'It's always right now,' a sentiment that encompasses Linklater's entire movie. "Boyhood" might not stay with you in its entirety, much of it evaporating while certain moments stand out. How just like life. Grade:
Robin's Review: B
Joel Edgerton wears four different hats in his feature film directing debut – he also adapts Boy Erased, Garrard Conley’s memoir, produces and co-stars as the Refuge Program head, Victor Sykes. His focus, though, is on his titular character, Jared, and the turmoil, confusion, anger and bewilderment he goes through because of his parents’ betrayal to their son. “It’s for your own good,” his mom tells him as he is taken away. As I watched this true-life story about gay-conversion “therapy,” I thought about the United States Marine Corp. The Marine philosophy is to take the new, raw recruit and shape him/her into a team member with the ability to think for themselves. The conditions and training can be harsh for the newcomer to the Corp but, unlike conversion therapy, does not destroy that recruit and their very being. The adaptation is a sanitized look at “conversion therapy,” a method that tears down any individuality (like sexual preference) and replaces it with politically correct thoughts and behavior. The problem is, it does not work and, as Edgerton shows, it causes far more harm, socially and emotionally, than it helps. We see the experience through Jared’s eyes as he is forced to submit to the “re-education,” which includes constant surveillance and everything but actual physical abuse. Hedges proves to be a capable young actor and hold’s the film’s focus, conveying the confusion, feeling of betrayal and anger at both the Refuge Program and his parents. The rest of the inmates and jailors we meet are two dimensional, with one exception, Troye Sivan as a savvy inmate who counsels Jared on survival. Nicole Kidman, as Jared’s mom, is given the chance for character development and arc, getting the requisite Oscar-contender speech towards the film’s end. Russell Crowe does nothing notable as the evangelistic dad, Marshall. The civil libertarian in me has a real problem with the whole idea of conversion therapy in any form. This is far different from organizations like AA that helps people with real addiction problems. I have never considered sexual gender preference a pressing social issue and the inmates of those conversion therapy programs probably agree.