Boyhood is a movie about humanity. Possibly one of the simplest movies you will see this year, but also one of the most touching and relatable. It is a story about adolescence and learning to cope and survive in a world that can, at times, be unforgiving and hard. Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is raised mostly by his single mother (Patricia Arquette) with his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). His father (Ethan Hawke) comes back into their lives towards the beginning of the movie and is around sporatically, hoping to play a larger role in raising his children but meeting resistance from their mother. His mother goes through a string of abusive husbands, each in their own way and for their own reasons. As Mason matures throughout middle and high school, he comes to recognize his own worth and find direction for his life after a tumultuous adolescence.
Most remarkable to me is how well put-together the story is, considering it was filmed over twelve years, for just a couple weeks each year. Not only did this require excellent editing and writing that would both show progression through the years and flow as a story should, but also predictive casting. The roles of the mother and father are one thing, but being able to see a young boy, recognize his abilities and have him grow into the role as well as Coltrane did is a whole other skill. It is such a unique concept that takes a huge amount of foresight to execute well. This is what sets Richard Linklater apart as a director: he can take an extremely simple concept and turn it into a fascinating and grounded film. His Before trilogy is wonderful, and Boyhood falls into the same category as a reflective and introspective look at a stage of life. You can tell someone the plot of the movie in one simple sentence.
As Mason’s father, Hawke is charming but also manages to evolve throughout the movie from the estranged father who regrets moving away from his children but lacks responsibility to one who is actively present in his children’s lives and has another new family of his own. He learns how to be a father and is able to settle down, even with a woman who comes from a family so different from his ideals. By the end of the movie, he has grown up and matured himself, just as Mason is.
At the same time, Mason’s mother grows up in her own way. Throughout Mason’s childhood, she goes through a string of abusive husbands in her search for a man to complete her idea of a happy family. First, she marries her psychology professor who ends up being an alcoholic who is also abusive to both her and Mason, finally getting out of it after a year or two. After becoming a psychology professor herself, she finds herself in a relationship with one of her students who is just out of the military and has his own abusive and controlling tendencies. Finally, by the end of the film, while she feels lost in a way with her last child moving out for college, she has also learned how to live on her own as a stronger woman. She no longer feels the need to find a man to fill the role of father for her children because they have both grown up.
As the main subject of the movie, we see Mason go through the stress of middle school and feeling the need to fit in. He is forced to leave behind his closest friend when they move to a bigger city. When his mother’s first husband forces him to shave his hair into a buzz cut to look more grown up, he fakes being sick the next day to avoid going to school and being called an alien by his classmates. He meets a girl in high school with whom he feels able to be open about his thoughts and feelings. Then that same girl leaves him for a “jock” because she feels he is too cynical. By the time he graduates high school, he is worried about meeting people at college and whether it is worthwhile when he already knows he wants to be a photographer. But once he gets there and meets his roommate, we see hope again that he will find his place, both in college and with a group of friends who will help him along with whatever it is he winds up doing with his life.
With all the hardships depicted throughout the movie, it ends on a hopeful note. Despite having a difficult childhood, Mason is still able to grow up into an intelligent, level-headed and brave young man. He finds new friends and new beginnings with the start of college.
In the end, Boyhood‘s simplicity is what makes it so relatable. Whether or not you had the same struggles during adolescence, everyone has their own issues to deal with. It allows you to reflect on your own upbringing and see how it shaped your own decisions to get you where you are today.