Moviemaking is hard, what with writers, actors, budgets, studios and many factors outside your control, it’s enough to make any director reach for the Valium.
If you really want to challenge yourself, choose a six year old child actor, arrange a fake family around the child, film for a few weeks. Then repeat for the next 12 or 13 years, making the assumption everyone will remain well, your backers will stand by you and the world does not end.
This is the basis for Director Richard Linklater’s ambitious project, which against all the odds has not only been completed but also coalesces miraculously into a beautiful, thoughtful film. A study of a boy growing into a man, ageing seamlessly right before your eyes as the years ebb away.
We join “Mason” (Ellar Coltrane) the six year old son of “Mom” (Patricia Arquette) and sometimes father (Ethan Hawke). “Mason” lives with Mom and older sister “Sam” (Lorelei Linklater) in Texas 2002. The kids do what all children do at that age, fight, squabble and blame each other, with waterworks turned on/off for dramatic effect.
The story follows the family’s ups and downs as the children age and experience the rhythms of life, good and bad. There are no car explosions, death defying stunts nor cars turning into transformers, in fact nothing to distract from watching a future classic film in the making.
Nothing much happens but if you allow yourself to become immersed in the experience, you can vicariously grow up again, all in a short 165 minute period. The soundtrack complements the on-screen visuals and the use of the final song “Hero” over the closing scenes is inspired.
On the acting front, arguably the heaviest lifting goes to “Mom” Arquette, life changes and personal growth ensures her trajectory has the deepest acting opportunities, rightly awarded at Oscar time in the supporting category. Hawke is good, yet playing a character we know is well within his range as he grows older.
Some mid section scenes are very effectively acted, notably an evening meal that is painful to watch from a child’s eye point of view. These scenes provide a realistic glimpse into the cause and effect of parents actions on those most dependant upon them
Kudos must be given to the youngest performers, one could argue Coltrane is merely growing up in front of the camera. However the fictionalised story, requires considerable acting ability and it remains rewarding to see him evolve, develop his own ideas, world-view and distinct laid back personality. This is also true of his fictionalised sister Lorelei Linklater (the directors real daughter), albeit to a lesser degree as Coltrane holds centre stage.
Despite the running length, the film is trimmed bare, there is no excess, everything that appears to on the screen helps to create a montage of a life so far. If there is a theme and this is not a “message movie”, maybe it’s that everything works out in the end. If you can keep moving forward, some form of happiness and stability is yours for the taking. Not profound maybe but somewhat re-assuring in our modern, sometimes harsh world.
A film 12 years in the making, filled with humanity, warmth and characters figuring stuff out the best they can, occasionally failing, sometimes not.
This is one of the best films of 2014, narrowly missing out on “Best Picture” at Oscar time. There are rumours the story could continue, so pencil in 2026 as a possible release date, it may well be worth the wait.