12 reasons I loved “Boyhood”

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July 28, 2014 // UPDATED 8:45 pm - July 28, 2014
By: Jim Walsh
Jim Walsh

Probably because I love and live with people straight out of Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” I saw a lot of myself and many of my loved ones up on the big screen when I saw it twice with family and friends at the Uptown Theatre last week. Which is how it should be experienced: Amidst a boisterous, willing audience who laughed and cringed throughout, clapped appreciatively at the end, and stayed well after the lights came up to take in the soundtrack credits (more on that later.)

“Boyhood,” of course, is the glorious new coming-of-all-ages film from Linklater, that Austin-bred celebrant of lanky, languid young emo Texas dudes on the reluctant cusp of manhood (Matthew McConaughey and Wiley Wiggins in “Dazed and Confused,” Ethan Hawke in the “Before Sunrise” series, Wiggins in “Waking Life,” everybody in “Slacker.”)

His latest is Ellar Coltrane, who plays the part of every kid Mason Jr. over the course of 12 years, and not only do we get to see Mason grow, the film itself is all about growth, and a chance to measure our own.

So, yeah. How much did I love “Boyhood?” How much did it remind me of my life, your life, my kids, our town? Let me count the ways:      

1. The last 40 minutes of the film is basically a valentine to the storied music scene of Austin, Texas, with long, loving shots of The Continental Club, Antone’s, and Sixth Street that had me once again grateful to be living amidst the grass-roots fever and history of the Minneapolis/St. Paul music orgy. The look on Mason’s face as he sips a beer and watches an old-timey punk-folk trio — his introduction to the club scene, at 19! — is precious, poignant and pregnant with possibility. Been there.

2. I recognized many of my friends — married, divorced, and in-between — in Patricia Arquette’s turn as Mason’s twice-divorced mother Olivia, a soul survivor of the first order. Linklater makes the mating rituals of middle-aged adults look like a promo for the monastic life, but in the end, after dating a “parade of drunken assholes” (per Mason), self-love and something like inner peace prevail.

3. Mason employs the word “awkward” three times over the course of the almost three-hour film, about as many times as the average teen uses it in an hour.

4. On the “worst day of my life,” with Mason heading off to college and Olivia facing down her own empty-nest mortality, mom wearily tells son, “I just thought there would be more.” As the scene faded into the next, of Mason driving down 35W with the Texas horizon riding shotgun and Family of the Year’s quietly jubilant “Hero” as his co-pilot, the woman sitting across from me at the Uptown said out loud to the screen, “I understand.”

5. “Yes, yes, yes,” whisper-chanted the four young dudes in the row behind me when Mason and pals pulled out the X-Box and a wave of millennial nostalgia swept the room.

6. Hawke as Mason Sr. could be the poster dad for every guy in this town (ahem) who has ever attempted to balance the traditional duties of fatherhood with the vagaries of playing music and writing songs (“Dad, do you have a job?,” little Mason asks early on). Midway through, Mason Sr. symbolically trades in his beloved GTO for a minivan, warming to the responsibility of his second shot at parenting via his own “castration.” He’s not the same person he was, and speaking as a guy Mason Sr.’s age with a son Mason Jr.’s age who has done time as an imperfect father, son, husband, friend, and human being, “Boyhood” provides an aerial view of family and humanity that comforts the afflicted and illustrates how life itself teaches and heals.

7. The tough-guy older peer pressuring the clueless choir boys to drink and talk about sex? The pretty straight girl reacting to existential adolescent dreams with, “You’re kind of weird, you know that?” The daddy-daughter-mortifying contraception chat? The daddy-son-mortifying dating chat? The “Harry Potter” midnight madness book release bash? The super-safe snuggled-in feeling of reading to the kids at bedtime? Been there.

8. If you’re lucky, you’ve been on one end or the other of late-night road-trip monologues like the ones Mason engages in with his girlfriend, Sheena (“I’m not deleting [my Facebook profile] for attention. I just want to try and not live my life through a screen. I want some actual interaction with a real person, not just the profile they put up”) and Olivia (“The system they use for you to find a college roommate is kind of spooky. Like, the freshmen satisfaction rate for roommates used to be 50 percent. Now it’s like 100, just because of the computer… Pretty soon they won’t even use a questionnaire; the NSA will just scan your digital code based on everything you’ve ever said, written, or clicked.”)

9. Christians are depicted as Jesus-loving lambs who give Mason a bible and a shotgun for his 16th birthday, a comment on what’s really at the heart of the Lone Star State. But the main religion in “Boyhood” is “Star Wars,” what with the easygoing father-son campfire bull session on the future of the franchise, and sideline references to the wisdom of Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi.

10. The scene where the kids get busted watching porn reminded me of a story a musician buddy told me when I was in the middle of navigating my own home around the young men and porn issue. “It’s not a big deal,” he said, tipping me off to this previously unknown — to me, anyway — boyhood rite of passage: “One night a few years ago about eight of us sat around talking about the times our moms walked in on us watching porn.” Good to know.

11. Favorite line, last scene, from Mason’s new college friend, as his roommate howls into the twilight like a coyote or a reincarnated Allen Ginsberg: “You know how everyone says, ‘Seize the moment?’ I’m starting to think it’s the other way around. You know? Like, the moment seizes us.”

12. So much of the Houston- and Austin-based bits felt like they could’ve been set in my own summers growing up in Minneapolis. And when the hellish-on-wheels kids take off on their bikes, tag a bridge, swing up to the sky on the neighborhood park swingset, and sneak off to ogle a lingerie catalogue, all to the zooming guitars and bloody yowls of the Hives’ “Hate To Say I Told You So,” hell if it and the whole of “Boyhood” doesn’t makes you feel like a hellish-on-wheels kid again. 

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at madripple@earthlink.net