Many of us have had the mixed pleasure and dismay of watching ourselves grow older via the photos in our family album. Ironically, the faces remain pretty much the same over the years — or at least recognizable — until age sets in and everything droops. But the thing that registers the passage of time unequivocally is the hair.
From Mamie Eisenhower bangs to fringe so long it can blind you. From tight curls to Jennifer Aniston flowing locks. Colors that transform from mousy brown to flaming pink.
And so it goes with Ellar Coltrane, the leading boy/man in Richard Linklater’s family drama, “Boyhood.” Playing a loosely coiffed boy named Mason, we first see Coltrane as an angel-faced six-year-old being harassed by his older sister, Samantha. (Played by Linklater’s real-life daughter, Lorelei.)
Mason’s parents, Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke enter fighting, and it soon becomes apparent that they are in the beginning stages of an inevitable divorce.
Mom and the kids begin moving from one Texas home to another. Mason goes to a school where he is harassed by bullies. Mom goes back to college and flirts with her professor.
Mom marries the professor and the kids become a blended family of two boys and two girls. All with long hair.
The professor turns out to be a martinet and a nasty drunk who harasses the kids, batters Mom, creates menacing tension, and frightens them all. He also takes Mason to a barbershop and, without consulting anyone, has all his long hair cut off.
Mom escapes from the professor, divorces him, and moves into another home. Another new school for her kids. And another boyfriend who also turns out to be abusive.
The scenes are short and included to demonstrate the passage of time as everyone ages. Linklater, who wrote, produced, and directed this ongoing epic, shot it over a 12-year period as Mason progresses from a baby-faced six-year old to a tall, lanky, restrained and thoughtful college student of 18. He still has the angelic face, but his hair undergoes the changes that identify the time.
Nothing much happens in this nearly three-hour film, except life. Mason, who is more an observer than a participant, stoically accepts the vicissitudes of growing up and only occasionally expresses anger or disapproval. Without comment he listens to the opinions and advice of the adults in his life, often delivered in condemnatory harangues or else in well-intentioned but ambiguous “lessons”.
Meanwhile, he goes through teen-age angst, trying to figure out what life is all about and how to make it meaningful. He discovers girls, and sex, and alcohol and pot, but only as passing diversions. He suffers the pangs of unrequited love and the comings and goings of the men in his mother’s life. He is Holden Caulfield, almost grown up.
“Boyhood” is a slow-paced, delicate film that will either enthrall you or bore you to death. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. If the slow-moving details of other people’s lives hold your interest, however, this beautifully rich coming-of-age film will keep you glued to your seat. As will its star.
“Boyhood” can be seen now in select theaters around Los Angeles.