Attracted originally by a childish face and the title "boyhood" and the fact that it won 3 golden globes at the Berlin Film Festival, I went inside the cinema. At the end of the film I knew that I had seen something unusual: a mini epic of the ups and downs in the the growing up of a boy from 8- to 20. And what a life it was: three changes of fathers, homes and schools, the last being U of Texas. The only thing which stays the same during this dozen year is his bond with his biological mother, father and sister. Whist watching the film, I was struck by how similar the protagonist Mason (Ellar Coltrane) looks despite the various physical changes in the 12 year period portrayed in the film. I only learned why later. It was in reality the exact same Ellar Coltrane who "played" the role for 12 years! How often do you get a film like that!
The tracking of the life of a growing boy is not the only thing striking about this film by Richard Linklater who wrote the script and co-produced it. What I like about this film is that Linklater has got a most natural and easy going filming style, nothing dramatic. Paradoxically, because he doesn't dramatize the little and big crises in the sometimes traumatic life of this young boy, the film becomes all the more dramatic: listening to bedtime story by his Mom (Patricia Arquette), cycling bikes to some out of the way quasi-sacred ritual secret kid's hiding place, having his first look at boobs from some fashion magazine, the bull of boys who obviously never had any real sex experience about their prowess in that department, bullying of a "suspected" gay classmate in the boys' rest room, the advice Mason got from his his song-writing dad's guitar's playing partner about how to get girls, from his high school teacher in the amateur photography lab about the prospects of succeeding as a professional photographer, the innuendo of some improper gay relationship between the two from his classmate in the computer lab, his passion about photography, the budding and eventual breaking up of his first intimate relationship with a pretty but conventional school girl who had a crush on him, the way he first met his mom's second husband Professor Bill Welbrock (Marco Perella) during one of his mom's lectures in psychology shortly after she broke up with his biological Dad, the way he hid his alcoholic problem which eventually led to the domestic violence which led to the break-up of his mom's second relationship and the abruptness of his being separated from his second Dad's twin son and daughter without any prior warning, the way his Mom met his third dad and eventually the kind of liberation he felt when his new room mate at Texas U, a student of literature took him to the nearby mountains instead of joining the official Freshmen Welcome Reunion and embarrassed and awkward conversations he had with Natalie Willemon, the girl friend of his roommate's girl friend who is all into all kinds of dances especially the outdated tap dancing, tried to chat him up when they were left alone during their track up the mountains. Will something interesting develop between these two non-conventional pair? Heaven knows.
I also like the way the director used Mason's elder sister Semantha (Lorelei Linklater) a straight A student, as a foil against which we may compare the slightly individual way Mason, following a bit like the senior Mason, what claims his soul and yet not completely forgetting the realities of the more "conventional" demands of mid-American schooling. I like ttoo the way Ellar Coltrane acts without appearing to be acting. Ethan Hawke is also excellent as the elder Mason, the way he wheedles his children and from time to time teaches his son a lesson or two about the "realities" of life.
We are also shown the good times Mason had with his first Dad, full of zest for life and initially a bit "irresponsible" but never a conventional guy, who treasured freedom and fun more than anything else and also how eventually he finally decided on a more conventional career as an actuary, got married and had a baby. As Mason grew up, we grow up with him, learning the kind of lessons of "real life" he learned, without judgment, without comment. We just look at the world from Mason's perspective. At the end of the film Mason's mum broke down in tears as she realizes how easily both Semantha and Mason could leave home without the slightest compunction and she asks herself: is this all that life has to offer her, despite her heroic efforts to bring up the two kids the moment she decided she would no longer be content be the typical American housewife, then went through first one unhappy and then a second just- so-so marriage. This is not the kind of film that Hollywood is famous for: overly "clever" conversation between the protagonists, fighting tremendous odds in the pursuit of the American dream, finally succeeding through making herculean efforts, fast cars, falling in and out of love with pretty girls, romanticizing everything into tired clichés and formulas etc. There's a certain 60's French "new wave" feel about the film but somehow also American. There's a kind of quiet reflective mood about the film, a kind of detachment from what's going on on the screen, as if a European director had come to make a film about an American boy against some very mid-American social and physical environment and is looking at what is going on from a most un-American point of view. I don't know how it will fare in America but I am sure that it will probably sell better in Europe than in America. Whatever the commercial fate of the film may be, I am quite sure that I'll watch out from the next film from Richard Linklater.