It’s not often that a film comes along that blows you away. I thought I was going to see an over-long film, a meandering story about a small boy growing up, but I wasn’t prepared for this extraordinary piece of film-making. It brings out so many emotions in you as you watch it. And the biggest emotion of all is love. You really begin to love these characters, despite their flaws, and you want to stay with them. At least I did.
The film follows six-year-old Mason (Ellar Coltrane), his older precocious sister (Lorelei Linklater) and their single Mom (Patricia Arquette) upping sticks for Houston. The children’s estranged Dad (Ethan Hawke) drops back into their lives and we understand straightaway without it needing to be said how this couple grew apart. Mom has grown up and is ambitiously determined to educate herself and make something of her life, whilst Dad is still struggling to find his way as a musician and is viewed by his ex as a ‘loser’.
And that is where the story begins: a 12-year journey viewed through Mason’s eyes – parents, school, friends, relationships, step-fathers and so much more. There’s no dramatic plot, no big reveal but there doesn’t need to be. What you get is a beautifully understated story about the mundane and everyday lives of ordinary people. But at the same time they are so real that you can identify with them and feel that you are growing with them over those years.
It’s an extraordinary challenge that Richard Linklater, the director set himself – to film actors over a 12-year-period and see a young boy mature and blossom into a young man on the edge of adulthood. He took a huge risk as he wouldn’t have known what sort of boy Ellar Coltrane would grow into. But he obviously saw something in that six-year-old that he knew would work, equally so for his own daughter, Lorelei, as both these young actors are exceptional.
Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette are formidable as the parents. You feel deeply for both of them in their separate personal struggles to raise their children and make more meaning of their own lives.
I felt a huge disappointment when the film ended. I still had questions that needed to be answered. What happened to those step-siblings? What about college? Did Mason make it as a photographer? Did his mum find happiness and true love?
So please Richard Linklater, if you’re reading this, please go back and film your characters again in five, 10, 20 years time, so that we can all participate in their life’s journey.
The best film I’ve seen in so long. Captivating and extraordinary. Don’t miss it.