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For Your Consideration: 'Boyhood'

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Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater
Any new movie directed by Richard Linklater is worth seeing, but nothing prepared me for the avalanche of gushing critics laying garlands at the feet of his latest feature, Boyhood. This is probably due to the daring creative leap behind the film, now widely reported, that Linklater filmed his actors for just a few days each year, over the course of twelve years. In this way we see the eponymous youth of the central character, Mason, as he and the actor who plays him, Ellar Coltrane, grow up before our eyes. It is a daring idea, which could have landed Linklater with a mess but improbably did not, which is probably why, given that the film is extremely watchable, in spite of its meandering and occasional longueurs, that the plaudits are as vociferous as they are.

My slight disappointment with the film likely had a lot to do with the raves heard from so many quarters, so let me not swell the choir of high expectations. Boyhood does not have many of the qualities that can draw one through Linklater's films, which are, like this one, so often about not much at all. Boyhood consists largely of "intimate little moments, all the kind of stuff that would get cut out of other movies," as Linklater put it. There is little of the humor of Slacker or Dazed and Confused, not enough of the intellectual walking and talking of the Before Sunrise trilogy, and none of the surreal qualities of Waking Life or A Scanner Darkly. This film is earnest in a different way, because the boyhood depicted is largely like that of the director himself. Linklater, like Mason, grew up in Texas, raised largely by a divorced mother who became a college psychology professor and receiving only periodic visits from a distant but fun-loving father. Even when Mason goes to college, one has the sense that he might not stay long enough to finish a degree, as Linklater did not.

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This film takes its time to examine the wondrous things that happen in families every day, and which most of us barely notice, like the pop songs that come and go (one of the ways to trace the arc of time in the movie). A friend of mine once commented that she wished she could save versions of her kids at many different ages, stored on a hard drive or something: any parent understands that idea, that you are sharing your house with a series of very different people as kids grow up. Seeing that play out on the screen is compelling, and Coltrane, who does not even give that great of a performance in terms of acting, commands attention for that reason. Ethan Hawke gives a free-spirited performance as his dad, a man too restless to settle down and raise a family (there may be elements of Linklater himself in Hawke's character, as the black GTO he drives supposedly belongs to the director), and the director's daughter, Lorelei Linklater, is charming and direct as his older sister, Samantha.

Patricia Arquette, however, towers above the rest of the cast as Mason's mom, a bright woman with terrible taste in men, who has to fight with all her claws to raise her kids. It is the role of a lifetime for Arquette, who has made a lot of dreck but when given a great role (True Romance, Beyond Rangoon, Ed Wood) can knock it out of the park. The character is all too often at the end of her rope, but the heroism of this single mom, which goes largely unrecognized, as well as her bitter regrets, including one that is at the heart of the most moving scene in the film, made me wonder if Linklater missed his actual title: Motherhood.

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