Monday, July 21, 2014

Boyhood [2014]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L)  ChicagoTribune (4 Stars) (4 Stars)  AVClub (A-)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. McAleer) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (M. Zoller-Seitz) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Boyhood [2014] (written and directed by Richard Linklater) is a remarkable 12-year wonder that in a Best Picture field of potentially as many as ten films will _certainly_ deserve at least a nomination for Best Picture at the Oscars for this year with possible director and original screenplay nominations as well (and the four core acting performances weren't bad either ;-).  So what the heck did Linklater do to deserve such praise? ;-).

Well this GREAT storyteller (or at least a storyteller with a GREAT IDEA) decided to assemble a core cast to play members of a family -- the mother, Olivia (played by Patricia Arquette), the father Mason, Sr (played by Ethan Hawke) and their two children Samantha (played by Lorelei Linklater the director's own daughter) and Mason, Jr (played by Ellar Coltrane) and THEN BRING THIS CAST TOGETHER FOR A COUPLE OF DAYS EVERY YEAR FOR TWELVE YEARS TO TELL THE THEIR STORY OVER TIME.  Film's primary focus is Mason, Jr, hence the film's title "Boyhood."  However, it's obvious as this story plays out that ALL THE CHARACTERS ARE growing / changing as well.  Indeed, part of the film's multifaceted reflection on "growing-up" would be that NO ONE "grows up" in isolation, Instead, we all grow-up / change together.

Yet the story told, is NO "Sentimental Journey."  When we meet the characters, mom and dad in their mid to late 20s (Sam and Mason, Jr  are seven and six respectively) are fighting.  Like many a parents, they "married early." We (viewers) immediately suspect that they chose to do so far more by the circumstances that they found themselves in than by choice (We get more info, ever age appropriate, about the circumstances of the parents' meeting / marriage as the kids grow older ;-).  And indeed, by the end of that first years' segment, Olivia's had enough of her still immature / directionless husband.  So she packs her kids in the car and moves back to her mother's (Olivia's mom played by Libby Villary) in Houston.

The story recommences a couple of years later with Olivia, Sam and Mason, Jr still living somewhere in the Houston area.  Olivia's found them all an apartment, has been holding down a job and going to community college.  Sam and Mason, Jr have settled in at their new school.  And dad's come back for the first time in 1 1/2 years, having spent the time in between "up in Alaska."

What was he doing "up in Alaska?"  Well, he tells Sam (when she asks) that he spent much of it working on a boat possibly as part of a commercial fishing enterprise, along the lines of the life portrayed on The Deadliest Catch [2005-]).  Now what would a Texan be doing on a commercial fishing vessel?  It probably wouldn't be his first choice.  However, Texas is an "oil rich state" as is Alaska.  So one would suspect that a fair amount of young men without particularly large skill sets to travel between the two states looking for work in one or the other state's oil fields.  Then when "up in Alaska" if working on a commercial fishing vessel proved to to pay better, well ... However, dad also tells Sam "to tell mom" that he's on his "second actuarial exam" (looking to get a job in insurance, now that he's back in Texas again).

If there was any hope on the part of Mason, Sr (and the kids) that he and mom (Olivia) could patch things up, that's unsurprisingly quickly dashed.  Mom's got other plans.  She's studying psychology (in good part, no doubt, trying to figure herself out).  And as she starts to feel better about herself, she starts looking for a "more responsible man."

Over the years that follow, we find her in two relationships.  The first was with a Psychology Professor (named Bill Wellbrook, played by Marco Parella) who was also divorced, also with two children of Sam's and Mason, Jr's age.  She even marries Professor Bill for a while before she runs into his own demons.  Later after she herself finishes grad-school and becomes a Psychology Prof, she enters into a relationship with a returning Afghan war vet named Ted (played by Stephen Prince).  Both of these men were perhaps "more responsible" than her original husband, but end up having multiple issues of their own.

In the meantime Mason, Sr, "grows up" as well.  Though not much of a dad, except perhaps "fun to be around" when Sam and Mason, Jr were kids, he starts to make more sense (and even gain some wisdom) by the time they enter high school.  During those years, he also marry again (probably by knocking-up his girlfriend again...).  However this time, he seems to be more capable of being a responsible husband than in his first marriage.  (His second wife's parents are a gas.  Again, they're all Texans. So for Mason, Jr's 16th birthday, step-grandma buys him a Bible "with his name engraved on on the frunt" and step-grand-dad gives him the gun he received from his grandpa when he was young.).

At a point, during this part of the story, Sam asks in playful, eye rolling fashion "Dad, you're not going to become one of those 'God people' now?"  He smiles / shrugs, AND his new wife RESPONDS WITH EQUAL PLAYFULNESS from a distance, "Hey guys, you know I can hear you two!"

I know that a number of readers here might be taken aback by this incident and perhaps even be offended THAT I WAS NOT OFFENDED BY IT (see the CNS/USCCB's review of the film, though in fairness what else could the reviewer write about that incident in the film?).  However, I found this episode amusing, REAL and KIND.  (I could add that it's obvious that Mason, Sr.'s new wife was NOT CATHOLIC but of a more fundamentalist Protestant bent).  However, I saw GROWTH in the dad's (Mason, Sr's) reaction to it all.  In earlier times he was far more opinionated / judgmental.  (Interestingly, though a Texan, he was shown earlier in the story as hating Bush/Cheney and was shown later campaigning (though never-altogether seriously) for Obama / Biden).  Here, some years later, he was accepting the religious convictions of his new wife and her family and was willing to be open to the possibility that he _could learn something from them_.  IMHO, that's a BIG STEP, from the arrogant certainty of ignorance to the coming to the realization that one could learn from others.

The last part of the film, involves Mason, Jr's teenage years.  Various potential "male role models" vie his attention -- there's his mother's Afghan war vet, now corrections' officer, boyfriend (yup, he's badge-carrying "responsible"), there's his photography teacher who wants him to "bear down and do his assignments: rather than "simply follow his bliss" (Mason's Jr's becoming a fairly good photographer), and there's his boss at a random fast food place where he's got a job who's trying to teach him discipline as well.  Finally, of course, there's his own dad, who, (at least in this film) appears to prove that biology does have some sense to things after all.  Indeed, dad's "grown-up" / "matured" / "changed" along side his kids over the twelve years and IMHO proves to be Mason, Jr's best "wisdom figure" as Jr approaches adulthood, whatever his previous shortcomings may have been.

Honestly, folks, it all makes for a remarkable story and A GREAT PIECE FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION AFTERWARDS.  What does it mean to "grow up"?  What are the trade-offs to the decisions we make?  And are we willing to accept that those around us are "growing up" and "changing" as well?  Great stuff!

ADDENDUM: I do have _one problem_ with the film.  In a movie that's mostly white, fairly late in the story a young Hispanic (person of color) is added marginally to the mix.  However, the character is treated so paternalistically that I wish he had been edited out.  He doesn't play a major role in the story in any case.  Yet, the story's treatment of him is such that it may actually offend many Hispanics (and other people of color) who otherwise might have liked the film without him.  This is why I'm giving the film 3 1/2 Stars rather than 4.  (With other films, I've been punishing in regard to their treatment of race than I'm here.  But I do think that there are so many good aspects to this film that I don't want to sink it on this account here.  Still, I do fully expect that a fair number of Hispanics will find the paternalistic treatment of the ONLY Hispanic (or person of color) in the film surprisingly tin-eared / offensive).

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