You have to hand it to Richard Linklater – this was a truly original idea. He filmed this movie over the course of 12 years – filming a week each year with the same actors, to follow the story of Mason, a boy, as he ages from 6 to 18.
It was nominated for a bunch of awards, and cleaned up for most of awards season. I can’t help but wonder if it didn’t have the gimmick of being shot over that many years – would it have been so critically acclaimed?
The reason I ask that question is that story-wise, not much happens. We meet Mason at age 6. He’s living with his older sister and mother, who already divorced his father. Mason is a pretty regular kid, and he and his sister (Samantha) are dealing with the divorce pretty well. Their father is bouncing around from place to place, stopping to see them when he can.
Eventually, their mother starts taking courses at the local college, eventually graduating and marrying her professor. The professor has two kids who are the same age as Mason and Samantha. They seem to do well for a while, but the professor becomes a drunk, and gets abusive. One day, he hits their mother, and she takes off, then comes back with a friend to get her kids – leaving his kids with him. They move, she starts teaching, their father moves back into town so they see him more regularly. Mason starts high school, makes friends, gets bullied (once), goes camping with his dad – who meets and marries a new lady (they then have a baby). Samantha heads off to college, and their mother hooks up with a former soldier who was a student of hers (who also becomes a drunk and verbally abusive). Mason gets into photography, gets a girlfriend, who eventually cheats on him with a college lacrosse player, and then graduates high school. He goes to college – meets a new girl – and the movie ends.
Literally – it’s just this kid’s boyhood. I had several issues – the first of which being that there were no hints as to when the timeline advanced. You could sort of pick up when the kids changed a little, but a quick subtitle of the year would probably have helped because certain scenes end abruptly after a conversation, then another conversation begins and you realize it’s a year later (there’s a lot of conversations). I was also really upset at the fact that the mother left her stepkids with that abusive drunk. Samantha even says to her “are we ever going to see them again?” And yes, she right in that she is not their legal guardian – but they never show up in the movie again. And they’re really never mentioned again. The kids were close – and they are never mentioned again? Maybe they were and I missed it. Also – That dude was her teacher – so did she marry him after she graduated? That wasn’t clear. Then the next dude was her student – did she start a relationship with him after he graduated?
Mason grows into a moody emo photographer kid – and we see one scene of him being bullied at high school – chances are that happened more, but it’s never mentioned again in the story. He drinks a lot and does some drugs in high school – and at no point are there any repercussions for that (I’ve mentioned before the issues I have with just showing high school kids drinking and doing drugs with no repercussions – it bothers me). Also – I get that’s it’s in Texas, but I had a huge problem with his grandparents giving him a gun for his birthday, then teaching he and his sister to shoot. Yes, I get it – it’s Texas, and the rifle is a family heirloom, but surely that handgun they give his sister is not – and I don’t care what the reason is – handing kids guns makes me super uncomfortable. Once Mason hooks up with his high school girlfriend, they get super close (how long were they dating? 1 month? 1 year? No clue). Then they suddenly are breaking up right before prom (but it may not have been all that suddenly). Once he gets to college – he skips orientation and does more drugs with his new friends – and that’s where the movie ends.
If you took out the 12 year aspect – and just shot the movie over the course of a month using different actors to portray the kids at different ages, I’m not sure it would work. There’s just not enough happening. But – the people in the movie do a great job at the various conversations in the movie:
- Ellar Coltrane does do a good job at Mason – but you can definitely see the difference once he becomes old enough to be more self-aware about his performance. He’s a good actor – but man, the character got really whiny and annoying. Not really his fault, I mean, his mom does hook up with a string of losers, and his dad sells the car he once promised to Mason. I have to say they did get lucky, I mean, the kid could have (at any time over the course of 12 years) decided not to do it any more, had a weird accident, or just gotten really weird looking! Also – bonus points for the fact that the blue pickup truck at the end is really his.
- Patricia Arquette won every award this season as the mother, and again she did a good job, but I just kept getting annoyed with her character. It was interesting to see her go from struggling to back-to-school to college professor.
- Lorelei Linklater (yes, the director’s daughter) plays Samantha – and has a lot less to do, because after all – it’s Mason’s story. Again – it’s a good thing that she stuck with it over the years, and stayed relatively grounded. I’m sure there was some point in her high school years where she pouted that she didn’t want to be in her dad’s pet project!
- Ethan Hawke played the father – and I feel like his character did some very obvious changing from being a bit of a loser at the beginning to growing and maturing, re-marrying and having another child. Hawke is good, and his performance is very believable.
That’s it, the core of the movie are these four characters, and the growth and changes in their relationships. It’s well-crafted, and certainly well-acted, but I really found it boring. And, I just expected something incredibly dramatic to happen, like other Oscar-movies. No one died, do one was seriously injured in an accident, no one got a terrible disease – they just lived – for 12 years. It certainly was an original idea, but I can’t say I was a fan of it.
5 out of 10. Gained points for the idea, but then lost points for the aforementioned issues – what happened to those stepkids? Was she dating that guy when he was her professor? Was she dating that guy when he was her student? Why will Mason not photograph the football game? Why did you just hand that really moody high school kid a gun? Why is the entire movie just conversations? I know, I know – to showcase the acting and the story. Well, fine.
Bonus Video 1: Before Sunrise – Before Sunset – and Before Midnight, all movies with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy by Linklater, shot 10ish years apart. Here’s the trailer for the Before Sunset:
Bonus Video 2: Cast Interviews: