According to Webster’s, the word nostalgia comes from the Greek words nostos, meaning return home, and algos, meaning pain or grief. For the cast of Boyhood, home and by extension family seems to be exactly that; an elusive goal and a place fraught with grief, despite the best of intentions by estranged parents.

A boy’s eye view of the world and a remarkable nostalgic coming of age film about childhood, and parenthood by the Texas based director Richard Linklater, who brought us Dazed and Confused (1993), School of Rock (2003) and Bernie (2011), Boyhood is an unflinching portrait of a millennial family as they struggle with divorce and the demands of everyday life. 

Six year old Mason (Ellar Coltrane) grows up with his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and his divorced mother (Patricia Arquette) in middleclass Texas towns, as mom struggles to keep the family together and financially afloat. He sees his father (Ethan Hawke) every other weekend and must suffer his mother’s boyfriends, who they move in with for a time until the relationship sours and they are forced to relocate and start anew. 

Visually, the film is a montage of moments and events in Mason’s life from his perspective that eventually grow into more than the sum of its parts. We see time passing through Mason’s growth, and it’s fascinating to see him slowly maturing throughout the film. I think Boyhood may be the first nostalgia film for the Harry Potter generation. 

What makes this film unique is the way it was made; using the same cast members over a period of 12 years from 2002 - 2013, and revisiting them every couple of years to tell an intimate drama in a documentary style. It’s kind of an American version of the Michael Apted 7UP series, where the film makers followed a group of British boys and girls, asking them questions about their lives, and then revisiting them every seven years to track their progress. In Boyhood we literally see Mason and his sister grow to adulthood and their divorced parents grow into middle age as they go through the varying stages of life while keeping up with a rapidly changing digital world.

At times Boyhood feels similar to other nostalgia films like American Graffiti (1973), about 1960s California teens celebrating one last night before graduating and moving on to college, Linkater’s own Dazed and Confused (1993), about graduating kids in the 1970s, or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), which followed a trio of high school students reflecting on life while skipping a day of school in the 1980s. 

This is the kind of film that can only be made if the director has an extremely close relationship with his main cast members, which obviously Mr. Linklater does.  He is proving to be a gifted voice of a generation, adept at being able to find the most iconic moments and adding appropriate era defining songs and pop culture references, creating a sort of time warp that allows us to relive the past for a short time.

The film is full of candid and moving milestone moments that are so typical of a boy’s life growing up in suburban middle class America; learning to live with your annoying older sister, being teased and bullied in school, getting excited about the bra section of a shopping catalog, trying to fit in with the in crowd, dealing with teachers and step parents, changing schools and making new friends, graduation ceremonies etc.

Not afraid to show the ugly and awkward truth, the story and many situations are universal and the film is so captivatingly real and unsettling to watch at times that it’s like looking at someone’s private home videos, except that we continue to see what happens after the camera is turned off.

It's a mesmerizing microcosm of typical experiences young people encounter at a particular time and place in history and everything that influences them and makes them who they are as they find their own identity.



Tim OCallaghan said...

I was off to see this movie tonight but plans changed. This movie has garnered some great reviews and I am looking forward to seeing it. Thanks for the great review.

Ken Dowell said...

I saw the movie last night and loved it. It was like watching your own kid grow up. Fascinating to see the actors and actresses in the movie age with time rather than with makeup.