I finally got around to watching Richard Linklater's groundbreaking film that follows the life of a family over the course of twelve years (using the same actors throughout). The film has a 98% RottenTomatoes score and a 100% on Metacritic. It simply doesn't get any better than that.
During the 165 minute journey, Linklater casually tells the story of a young boy growing up within a broken family in different parts of Texas. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette play the parents as superbly as we would expect them too. The boy, whose journey we are experiencing, is also played extremely well by Ellar Coltrane, who through the course of all the years, becomes an excellent actor right before our eyes.
There is plenty of drama, as different father figures come and go, and as the adults make various decisions which turn out to not be the best. They, along with the kids, realistically mature throughout the narrative as they pass through different stages of life, and just as in our lives, their decisions start getting better.
This is fundamentally a story about the boy, Mason, who has far too many adults pushing him to commit to a direction throughout his childhood, when he has no idea upon which path he should take. At an early age, he learns how chaotic life can be, and he learns how hard it is to choose the correct answers when they seem so fuzzy at times. As adulthood is pushed on him by his parents, we feel the weight and pressure of the over-parenting.
The story itself is wonderful. It's easily relatable which is what Linklater does best. He delivers moments where we're thinking "Oh, we've been there. Yes. We. Have."
What's frustrating is that this excellent film could have been a masterpiece if it weren't for some very suboptimal execution mechanisms. One of the most annoying is how Linklater continually uses dialogue far too blatantly to dictate to the audience how much time has lapsed. If Mason walks into his birthday party, someone has to ask him his age right off the bat to alert the audience where we are in the timeline. It's distracting, completely unneeded throughout, and felt forced every single time.
The film also lacks subtlety in many scenes that would have been played more effectively had they been cut down. Ethan Hawke was well established early on as a father who tried too hard--that pushed his children to believe his views too much. Then it's reinforced again, and again, and again. One particular scene that would have played out much better was one where Mason sits in the minivan with his father and his new wife, and it's revealed that the father had sold his old sports car to pay for the minivan. The scene then drags on with Mason getting upset because it had been promised to him when he was a young kid, and with his dad blathering about how cars are bad investments. The point is that the dad had gotten to the point in life where he had to sell his dream sports car because his priorities had changed. That would have been enough to shock Mason into seeing his dad differently. All the rest was excess that just dragged an already too-long movie further than it needed to go.
Some scenes are handled brilliantly, however. Mason talks to his dad in an empty balcony of a club, while a band tunes up on the stage below. After some needed small talk to establish the scene, Mason asks his dad what it (life) is all about. His dad reveals that even at his point in life, he has no idea, and nobody else does either. It's a great moment between father and son, and shows a very specific couple of points in life that they had each grown to. Linklater's handling of the scene was superb.
I love how Linklater ended the story. It was laid back in his usual style, yet it was profound as well, and a fitting conclusion to Mason's arc of childhood. As the credits roll, one has to just sit back and think about what all has been absorbed. It's a heavy moment.
I think Linklater deserves an enormous amount of credit for daring to get this film made. IFC Films also deserves credit for taking a chance on such a long-term project. Hats off to the actors as well. This movie is truly groundbreaking, something that is rare in the current era of film.
Though I had some problems with it, I did fall quickly into the story and truly did want to see where the characters were going. A few unwanted annoyances did kick me out at times, but each time I was able to fall right back in. It's hard to complain about such a huge undertaking that was crafted so well for just a few million dollars. Richard Linklater has done some remarkable work. I think he's proud to have this project on his mantle.
My Rating: 8.7/10