Boyhood was my favorite film of the year. I hope it wins Best Picture at the Academy Awards this Sunday.
The following is the conclusion of my 15 observations about real-life that the film Boyhood accurately portrays. SPOILER ALERT – this contains major details about the film. Read no further if you do not wish to know more about Boyhood.
It’s in the Small Moments – May be more memorable than big, cliche movie rights of passage – The film is notable for what it doesn’t depict. We don’t get to see Mason’s parents divorce – they already are when the film begins. We don’t see Mason turn sixteen, don’t see him get his drivers license, don’t follow him to his prom. Instead, we get quieter moments that resonate with Mason, and with us. We don’t see his graduation ceremony, but instead the car ride with his friend after the ceremony. Anyone remember what your graduation speaker said? We don’t see the break-up with his girlfriend, just conversation about what happened and why. Boyhood emphasizes the small moments of life that may be more memorable than right of passage cliches found in film, television, and books.
Awkward Teenage Years – It is actually painful to watch Mason as a teenager. He comes across as incredibly awkward. Mason starts discussing big ideas, and his delivery is at times unconvincing. Perhaps it’s because Ellar Coltrane, the actor playing Mason, is not a professional actor, and his monologues about “cyborgs, robots, and dopamine rushes” felt out of character. Which is exactly why he felt like a real teenager. Mason came across as a typically complex and contradictory teen; slacking on schoolwork, committed as an employee. For the first two-thirds of the film, Mason mostly observes visually, communicating very little dialogue, as he takes in what life is throwing at him. Then all of the sudden, we see an overconfident teen, brash in his own thoughts and dismissive of other people’s proclamations. Whether it was the actor’s abilities or intentional filmmaking, Mason’s awkwardness as a teen lends authenticity to his character. Some people have commented how boring the teenage years are in this film. Exactly!!! That is authentic for most teens – their high school years aren’t John Hughes films.
Poor Communication Between Teens and Adults – At some point, most of the adults in Mason’s life start giving him well-intentioned, but unsolicited advice about life. His teachers, his boss, stepfathers – he has all these adults in his face, concerned about what he’s doing and judging his every move. The adults may believe they are communicating with Mason, but they are not. They are talking “at” him and “to” him, but they are not communicating “with” him. They are more concerned with what they NEED to convey to him than they are concerned to hear what he has to say. It’s startling how often I work with families where parents complain their teen doesn’t talk to them, and yet, often they lecture their teen and cut them off when they challenge or disapprove of what their teen says.
Most Don’t Have it All Figured Out – Mason and Samantha, like many of us, turn to their parents and other adults for answers when they are young. They look to them for safety, security, and understanding. Over time, they start to question their parents, authority, and what they’ve been told. Mason asks his father, “What’s the point?” and Mason Sr. replies, “What’s the point? I mean, I sure as s**t don’t know. Neither does anybody else, okay? We’re all just winging it, you know?” Mason may be close to growing into adulthood, but like the rest of us, still needs to continue his growth long after childhood.
Ordinary Lives Have Meaning – Every person’s life has a story to tell. The film has no story or character arc. The central arc is the passage of time. No big lessons are learned. Outside of Bill, the second husband, there are no “bad guys”. Mason lives an ordinary life with an ordinary family, like many people. The film challenges us to find meaning and significance in the mundane, ordinary, normal life of Mason. And by doing so, the film invites us to find meaning in our own lives, regardless of how ordinary or normal we may view them.