And now we’re down to two. Tugging the opposite ends of this year’s Oscar statuette, Boyhood and Birdman (since their respective festival premieres) are settled for a coin toss that gambles on which is the more award-winning epic. Grand in terms of its dedicated and candid story of growing old (for parents) and growing up (for kids), Boyhood matches the time frame of last year’s winner (12 Years a Slave) but offers a gentle and humbling account of middle families throughout the years. Meanwhile, Birdman preys on the pretentious ideologies of its cathartic profession and preens its black comedic wings through its prima donnas caged in a unique, meticulously looped environment. For full disclosure, I am not an ardent fan of both (The Grand Budapest Hotel and Whiplash get my vote); though for this edition, I’d join the bandwagon for… Boyhood. At the end of the day, these films (the Best Picture nominees are populated by individuals – not ideas*, as the subject matter) are weighed by the potency of their human stories, and the easiest give-away (in my opinion) is the one that mirrors the most accessible reality, and not what is too disposed of its self-serving mythology.
There are movies that are part of one’s childhood (mine were Space Jam, Casper, Jumanji), but there’s one film, that definitively relives those nostalgic years as if they’re part of your own.
BOYHOOD or girlhood, it makes no matter. Capturing nostalgia for 12 grueling years, director Richard Linklater knocks on suburban stories for an inviting fictional memoir that speaks universally about the recognizable workings of childhood. A kaleidoscopic saga of the becoming of a youth, this coming-of-age drama is everyone’s story of growing up, most particularly the 90’s kids (including myself) who experienced first-hand the multitudes of transitions towards the new millennium. Transitions are in fact, BOYHOOD’s most binding theme as it sprawls on a more than a decade-long biography that endured shifts such as technology, culture, and ideology – the last being the most crucial change in one’s childhood. Linking honest snippets of domestic drama into a seamless technical feat, Director Linklater creates a straightforward narrative of a boy’s transition to adulthood that doesn’t miss the collective effects of its changing family dynamics and external influences which shaped Mason Evans Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) to become the man he has grown.
Ellar Coltrane throughout the filming of Boyhood
Unlike other coming-of-age dramas, BOYHOOD is certain on how it sees its youngsters in their grown up state. It’s the matter of how the audience identify themselves with them – not just to Mason Jr. and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), but also on their familial setting. Linklater’s latest epic (The Before Trilogy is considered a longstanding romance) deconstructs the mundane reality of families and in the Evans’ case, a perfect depiction of an imperfect family. As the committed matriarch, Olivia, Patricia Arquette embraces a truthful portrayal of an enduring mother who single-handedly raised her children while also aspiring for her self-interests. Linklater regular Ethan Hawke is a ‘constant’ scene-stealer who sporadically visits his kids and somehow imparts wisdom – the least he can do to compensate for his detachment and non-support. But perhaps the most heartbreaking reality in BOYHOOD, aside from the authenticity of its domestic disposition, is the ‘dreadful’ permanence of change. In her touching last scene, Olivia has no choice but to let her grown children lead their own lives, while she’s left sulking, alone, at her apartment. Seeing the sweetness and innocence from Mason Jr. and Samantha curdle to aloofness and disinterest was the most tangible reflection of reality that makes me ruminate on my own teenage becoming. Understanding the psychology of growing up is a puzzle of its own but BOYHOOD makes a benevolent chance for viewers to see their younger selves grow up with Mason Jr. and become sentimental of the childhood years that were forgotten and/or taken for granted. It’s a completely immersive experience on a personal level that makes BOYHOOD a bull’s eye shot to the heart. Its tragic truthfulness, however, is not cynical; rather an unwavering promise of youth and the hopeful conclusion of seizing every moment of it.
The universality of BOYHOOD’s thematic scope makes it an epic of its own, aside from its grand film exploit of more than a decade in the making. Rarely does a movie make extraordinary stories out of its ordinary characters but this Oscar frontrunner easily becomes an exception. It’s a film about everyone’s family and childhood in its simplest ways. It more than forges a fleeting onscreen empathy. It brings cinematic intimacy to a deeper and more conscious skin.
Up Next: Birdman (which will be lengthier than I thought)