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Before Adulthood Comes Boyhood

Updated on April 5, 2015

The life of a Texas boy and the joys and disappointments he encounters along the way are the subject of the movie Boyhood. Viewers meet Mason Evans, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), as a six-year-old discovering the world around him at home and at school. During those early years, his divorced mom, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), moves Mason and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) to Houston so she can pursue a college degree and better work opportunities. Her ex-husband, Mason, Sr. (Ethan Hawke), went to work in Alaska, supporting himself and his family while still pursuing his dreams in music. He comes to visit when he can. While she studies, she meets a professor named Bill Welbrock (Marco Perella), who is a single parent himself. In time, Olivia and Bill marry, but the blended household they expected doesn't blend, due largely to Bill's drinking and ordering Olivia's children as if they were his own. As the problems with Bill grow worse, she leaves him and takes refuge in the home of a friend named Carol (Barbara Chisholm).

By the time the boy is a teen, Olivia has a career as teacher, and she has moved herself and her children to San Marcos, a small community located between San Antonio and Austin. Once he's in high school, he starts to take an interest in girls and holds a job at a local restaurant. In school, he gets good grades, but his photography teacher, Mr. Turlington (Tom McTigue), thinks he can do better in that class, and challenges young Mason. Meanwhile, the elder Mason has remarried to a woman named Annie (Jenni Tooley). He has also started work at a regular job and started a family with her. Soon, Samantha heads to college, while young Mason tries to earn a scholarship with the skills he has acquired in photography. Olivia marries for a third time, this time to an Iraq War veteran named Jim (Brad Hawkins), who now works as a prison guard. Life with Jim, though, has its problems as well. With her son's impending departure for college, Olivia starts to feel anxiety about the prospect of an empty nest.

Boyhood marks a unique and engaging film in the career of its writer-director, Richard Linklater. The four main actors (Coltrane, Arquette, Hawke, and Linklater's daughter Lorelei) assembled every year for twelve years to bring this project to life. Viewers get to see Coltrane and young Linklater grow as they go through schools, homes, and relationships. One of the best sequences in the movie involves the senior Mason inviting his old family to join his new family to celebrate the junior Mason's birthday at the home of Annie's parents. The parents surprise the teen with their presents in more ways than one. I've read that director Linklater based his screenplay on the changes Coltrane experienced through the years. The other regulars also have some screenplay input, though the actors go uncredited. The story, though appealing, doesn't reach the same level of engagement that the director's Before series (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight) have. Jesse and Celine have made their journey through life a special one, but Mason's less special journey from grade school to college is still fascinating.

I like Coltrane as young Mason, who learns and deals with the world around him. As a teen, he learns how to be an achiever. For example, Mason, who doesn't follow football, gets assigned to shoot a roll of film for a game. Mason takes all sorts of shots from the sidelines, but he only starts to shoot the game when his claasmates remind him of his main purpose there. His interests change from arrowheads to photography to girls, and shows how his friendship with his classmate, Sheena (Zoe Graham), develops during their time in high school. Arquette is fine as Olivia, who's trying to give her children the best life she can, even as other changes in her life don't fare well. Hawke, who's one of the stars of Linklater's Before movies, is solid as the elder Mason, who learns he can't be a buddy to his children, and learns to be a parent. That especially hits home when Mr. Evans has to explain the fate of his beloved Pontiac GTO to his son, which he had once promised to his son. Lorelei Linklater also adds nice supporting work as Samantha, a sibling who forgets about any sort of rivalry due to the experiences repeated moves the family faces.

Every day brings new experiences and moments that might never be repeated. These, like all days, can never be repeated. The days turn into years, and the years bring changes that are often not expected. Boyhood shows the life of Mason Evans, Jr., as he grows, makes friends, loses friends, and learns how school can be beneficial. He gains knowledge, he makes mistakes, and he discovers the good the world has to offer. Boyhood is not profound, but the movie presents a unique way to chart the growth of one boy.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Boyhood 3.5 stars. An epic about a typical American boy.


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