Every so often a book or movie comes along that is quiet yet profound, a story that makes you slam your back against the chair, stare at the ceiling and wonder how something so simple and understated can be so insightful. That book might be Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry or Megan Mayhew Bergman’s Birds of a Lesser Paradise.
I’m a fan of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise series, also simple and understated. Now in his latest achievement, Boyhood, writer-director Linklater delivers a brilliant look at a boy’s life from age six to eighteen. He filmed the movie over twelve years, a few days each year with the same actors, including Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, the director’s daughter, Lorelei Linklater, and Ellar Coltrane as the boy, Mason.
Watching Mason navigate his dysfunctional world is a study in how life shapes us, how we’re deeply affected by our own decisions and by those around us, by our joys and mistakes and missteps.
When bowling gutter balls with his every-other-weekend dad (Ethan Hawke), Mason pleads for bumpers so he can knock down some pins. “You don’t want the bumpers,” his dad says. “Life doesn’t give you bumpers.” And Mason’s surely doesn’t.
Patricia Arquette ages on screen in a raw and heartbreaking role as she makes one bad decision after another, both for herself and her kids. Toward the end of the movie, she says goodbye to Mason as he leaves for college, reflecting on their years together. After divorcing three husbands, getting her degree and landing a teaching job, after birthdays and graduations, she thought there would be more. She is left staring at her final milestone: death.
It’s the type of movie you want to talk about, to text your son about, to see again. It’s the type of movie that makes you want to write an understated and insightful story of your own, a culmination of your experiences and heartaches, your joys and mistakes and missteps, your quiet life.