Richard Linklater, the director of quintessential films that look deep into the souls of young adults, turns his camera on Millennials in his new film, “Boyhood.” The movie currently enjoys an almost-unheard-of 100 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, beloved by 103 of 103 critics weighing in.
Novel in production and artistic in execution, the depiction of today’s young adults and the dreamy, sensitive, yet unfocused tone of the film paints a picture of a generation unburdened by ambition, devoid of passion, and drifting, with little in which to believe.
Pajama Boy is ready for his close-up.
In an interview, Linklater was engaging, insightful and jovial as he discussed his work, calling it “a period-piece film made in the present tense.”
He filmed the two-hour, 45-minute movie over 12 years, using a cast who came to the set a few weeks each year. It features actual period clothes, technology, music, and vehicles, creating an unprecedented level of authenticity. The music, especially, will transport young adults back to their own childhoods.
Injured by Adults, But Not Angry
The loosely woven story follows Mason (Ellar Coltrane), as he transitions from kid with peach fuzz to a young man in need of a shave. His older sister, Samantha (Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei), grows from a sharp-tongued bossypants to a sharp-tongued coed. Their mother (Patricia Arquette) and father (regular Linklater collaborator Ethan Hawke) end the film with more pounds and wrinkles than they started.
“That was the joy of doing this,” Linklater said, in the Washington DC interview. “With most movies, you’re so rushed during production. It’s great to be able to work like a sculptor: …edit the whole film again, all the years put together, watch it at home alone at two in the morning, …I never made a film that felt like it wanted to be itself so much.”
For a coming-of-age film, it’s remarkably muted. There is a sense that the only difference between adults and children is that adults are aware they are adrift in a sea of meaninglessness while children haven’t yet figured that fact out.
Like so many Millennials, Mason is shuttled from marriage home to single parent home to marriage home with a shrug of the shoulder and little explanation. His parents are the kind of sensitive, Progressive adults whose greatest act of love is a frank conversation about birth control around adolescence. Beyond that, they are too busy figuring themselves out to help the children make sense of the chaos. They are too busy chasing their own dreams, albeit small dreams, to care for the wounds they cause their kids. The both express self-pity, but never regret, for their actions that have brought pain to their children.
The kids deserve an apology but never receive one.
‘Boyhood’ bothered me because I wanted Mason to be angry at this shortchanging, to become a rebel, maybe to shout a little, break a few things.
Instead, Mason becomes a kind of introspective warrior, focused on examining his own navel. He spends one scene obsessing over his decision to abandon Facebook. Yet, his very dissection of this issue is in itself self-focused. He’s still talking about himself instead of learning to play the trombone, perfecting his layup, or mastering watercolor.
Repeatedly, Mason talks about Mason instead of bringing value to the world.
Aware, But Not Accomplished
As he exits boyhood, he drifts into college as the necessary next step in a life of prescribed next steps. He has a slight talent and no drive, but is entitled, somehow by society, to another four or five years to seek the answer to the biggest question of all: himself.
I asked Linklater if he has an after-story for Mason in his mind, a concept of what his adult life would entail. He demurred: “Well, he’s got this wonderful four years of college if he completes that, but that’s a good little way station, I think, to find yourself at another level, and you know, bounce your ideas of life off not only students but teachers so you know that could be a good phase of his life. But after that, no I don’t know.”
Llinklater went on: “But I think he’ll bring a thoughtful and sensitive thing to whatever he does. It’s a really amazing generation. There’s a lot of really great kids out there in this generation, they’re very, you know, sensitive, aware. I feel good about him.”
This movie deftly captures the sensitive, aware ennui of white, affluent Millennials.
However, there is another very minor character, a Hispanic worker who takes to heart the off-handed comment of Mason’s mother that he should go to community college. Years later, they bump into him again, a successful businessman grateful for the suggestion that led to his success.
His story is also a Millennial story, and a more hopeful one.