Boyhood (2014; dir. Richard Linklater) is certainly a logistical achievement. Made over a period of 12 years using the same actors, it was a feat to keep them all alive and willing to participate. The main focus in this process was Ellar Coltrane, who plays the boy. He is six when the film begins and eighteen when it ends. As a young boy he is an unaware and wholly natural actor. As he grows older, and more self-conscious, his acting becomes slightly less effective, but he does the job. His parents, not so much. Rosanna Arquette as his mother always seems on the verge of some sort of nasal allergic reaction. Ethan Hawke as his father seems smarmy.
The underlying premise here has to do with the patterns of human life, of children who grow up and of the parents who, together or apart, raise them. There’s supposed to be a commonality of experience there with which we can identify, and there is. Of course, the parents here are middle class white Americans, and undoubtedly the experience would be different if a Syrian or Afghani or Ukrainian boy were at this film’s center. But I grant this film its premise, with its limits.
This film works best when it centers on children, and it’s therefore Ellar Coltrane, the boy at this film’s heart, who is its heart. The final scenes, about his first experiences as a college freshman, are truly moving. There’s nothing particularly revelatory or illuminating for me about this film. Maybe because I was once a boy and lived in my own way the life Ellar Coltrane lives. Or maybe because as a parent I’ve seen my children grow up and mature and move away and have felt that same pride and sense of despair and abandonment that Arquette feels in the film. Against one’s own personal experience, a film such as this one, however well conceived, can never hope to measure up.