Writer and director Richard Linklater’s study of childhood that took twelve years to make – focusing on central character Mason growing from the age of five to eighteen and unusually actually waiting for Ellar Coltrane, who portrays him, to grow himself before filming the sequential scenes. This is what the film has garnered a lot of attention for, and it is interesting to watch all the actors age in time with the story – the other members of his immediate family are played by Lorelei Linklater (the director’s daughter) as his sister, Patricia Arquette as his mother and Ethan Hawke as his biological father.
It’s a fictionalised drama, and follows various sociological important events in Mason’s life, from the mundane (his sister tormenting him and then bursting into tears when their mother comes to investigate, for example, will be something a lot of people can relate to) to the dramatic for someone that age, his first break up and exposure to various amounts of peer pressure and so on. Alcohol and alcoholism play a strong role throughout, and the film very successfully shows the potentially devastating effects of both.
Other areas, however, don’t stand up so well – we learn that his father is massively against the war in Iraq and is a huge supporter of Barack Obama, but then years down the line he is taking his kids out to shoot guns in the countryside as a nice family thing to do. Now, given the film was edited together after Obama publicly asked the movie industry to take more responsibility over how it portrays the use of guns in the wake of various horrific massacres in the States, this scene not only doesn’t really make sense for the character but also seems in pretty bad taste, it’s not like Linklater is making a documentary on contemporary views toward guns in American culture, it’s all far too casual.
Similarly, once Mason makes it to college he is shown to immediately make some new friends and one of the females pops what appears to be some kind of sweet into his mouth, but then she says ‘I’ve timed them perfectly to kick in once we’re up there’, referring to the small mountains they are about to climb. He’s totally fine with this, not in the least concerned with ingesting a mysterious narcotic, and the ensuing scene plays out in an idyllic fashion where they all ‘bond’ and he gets to share a moment with a ridiculously hot girl, heavily suggesting he can now ‘find himself’ and his life will be all roses and violets as he’s made it to college and can have drugs for breakfast and encountered the people he was always ‘meant’ to meet. In reality, the situation could easily have been ‘four freshman students plunge to death in horror accident after tripping balls for hours and thinking rocky summit was bouncy castle’, and although I’m all for going into higher education and hopefully meeting like minded people that can be friends for life, the scene is just cheesily ill conceived.
The acting is consistently very good, and there is a lot in there of value concerning the difficulties one can encounter in life, not just boyhood, but overall there is a distinct depression to the film with fairly mixed messages, especially on the issue of drugs, and rather than feeling like a genuine encapsulation of contemporary living, it just feels like the personal stamp of the director and his own agenda. Maybe if filmmakers like Linklater weren’t so overly concerned with how ‘hip’ they think doing drugs is, then they wouldn’t have developed such a negative view of life in general, and then felt the need to bring that across in their work like some kind of secret truth that only their egos had the insight to unearth.