The title of Richard Linklater’s extraordinary film did not lure me to the theater. A friend’s recommendation did.
Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater. Starring Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. Playing at cinemas around New England.
By Helen Epstein
I had decided against seeing Boyhood. Every American woman of a certain age has had it up to here reading and/or having to study boys’ coming of age stories in book and film, starting with Tom & Huck, through Holden and the guys in A Separate Peace, to the memoirs and stories of gay and transgender men. Even though I spent six years at an all-girls school, we never read a coming-of-age book about a girl. So the title of Richard Linklater’s extraordinary film did not lure me to the theater. A friend’s recommendation did. “It’s not only about boyhood,” she said. “It’s about life.”
She was right. Boyhood is about 12 years in a boy’s life but, as important, it is how he observes 12 years in the lives of his mother, father, step-fathers, older sister, grandmother, and many of the lives these touch. It takes place in Texas, with all the social, religious and political complexities of that state. It’s a film that refuses to adhere to the current arbitrary length (one hour and 32 minutes) deemed necessary for audiences. The film runs close to three hours. Though there are lulls and action-hungry viewers may get antsy, the payoff is not only visual but psychodynamic because you watch the many characters grow (and age) before your eyes without artificial gizmos or the tricks of a make-up artist.
Like Ingmar Bergman’s landmark Scenes From A Marriage, which followed a couple through marital terrain over time, Boyhood covers the terrain of the contemporary American family. Director Linklater took a huge risk by hoping that his actors would be alive and committed to the project over the 12 years it took to shoot. I enjoyed watching all of them in their various stages of life but particularly the female characters — the mother, grandmother, stepmother and bossy older sister, who define so much of what boyhood is about. Linklater gave his actors lots of room to develop their roles and they perform as though they were part of a long-time repertory company. Their faces and bodies are almost always interesting to look at as they age, as are the Texas locations.
Great film. Go see it!
Helen Epstein is the author of Joe Papp and five other books of non-fiction, all available here.