“Boyhood”–Childhood is Never Easy

 

BoyhoodFilmed over 12 years with the same cast, “Boyhood”  is like no other movie made in Hollywood.  This groundbreaking story feels like a documentary, not a scripted narrative written and directed by Richard Linklater (of “Slacker” fame), who films  intermittently for five days each year over an eleven-year period (from  2002 to  2013).  The decade-long time-span for shooting the story is in itself pioneering, but “Boyhood” is so much more.  This coming-of-age story is about all families, families we know and families we grew up in.  It is not exclusively about boys, although there are scenes encapsulating maleness.  “Boyhood” is more  about all of us: growing up and growing old.

The viewer is pulled into the film, almost as a voyeur.  We see the  beautiful six-year old boy,  Mason (the phenomenal newcomer Ellar Coltrane),  grow to eighteen years old, encompassing the baby-faced  charm, but also the  pain, of early childhood through the indecisiveness of adolescence with a single mom and a well-meaning  father ill-equipped for either parenting or marriage.  “Boyhood”  opens with a sudden decision by Olivia (Patricia Arquette),  the lovely but exhausted single mother, to move to Texas in order to start a new life with her two children, Mason and Samantha (Lorelei Linklater).   The drifter dad Mason Senior (Ethan Hawke) insinuates himself into their lives.  There is no place any of them can call home.    Boyhood 2

 

 

 

Everyone in the family makes very poor choices.  As the story unfolds, there are other possible outcomes , different from what actually happens, but equally viable. When Mason, now eighteen years old, is asked: “Do people seize moments or do moments seize them?”  Mason replies:  “We are always in the moment.”  And “Boyhood” reveals the ever-constant present that replays our past. That is part of the genius of “Boyhood”, although the pacing is at times uncomfortably slow.

Ultimately, “Boyhood”  belongs to the young actor Ellar Coltrane who plays the boy Mason.   Lorelei Linklater, as his sister, Samantha,  also shares center stage for underscoring the tensions of everyday family life.   I wouldn’t be surprised if this movie  becomes a film classic!

 

“Bernie”– A Texas Tale

This indie film defies easy categorization because it is sometimes comedic, often sad particularly with regard to the old and lonely, and always quirky.

Based loosely on a true story, which took place in a Texas hamlet called Carthage, the small-community culture is faithfully and mercilessly presented. The writer-director, Richard Linklater (of “Dazed and Confused” fame) zeroes in on ordinary lives in Carthage, particularly of the old.  Filmed in  a quasi-documentary style of “interviews” with actors and local Texans, about the almost-too-good-to-be-true Bernie Tiede,  “Bernie” does lose its way in a slow-paced narrative. However, the odd combination of folksy small-town America with its constant gossip and acrid humor contributes to the story’s attraction. The script’s homespun, down-home dialogue is biting, sarcastic, and ruthless which makes the gossip even more authentic and juicy. The genial faces are not those we see in Hollywood films.

The movie opens with Bernie as a fastidious mortician,  lecturing on the intricacies of preparing the body for burial (reminding me of scenes from the phenomenal Japanese movie, “Departures” (Academy award-winner for 2010 best foreign film–see my February 15, 2011 review). Bernie has to find acceptance from this community, and he does.

Marjorie Nugent (the delightful Shirley MacLaine) plays the wealthy old bitch who sheds no tears at her husband’s death. Family members have sued her.  She communicates only with her stockbroker.  Then Bernie moves to town. Her character is pivotal to understanding Bernie and both actors play off each other brilliantly. Jack Black nails every scene he is in, losing his usual goofy man-child demeanor for that of a caring but essentially repressed man, indispensable to the town’s mortuary and to the church choir.  (Jack Black’s considerable singing ability is showcased here.) Yet Bernie is slightly “off” but the viewer doesn’t quite know why.  There is no backstory for Bernie before he moves to Carthage.

Slowly and reluctantly Majorie Nugent opens herself to a life of affection and enjoyment due to Bernie’s gentle ways, but soon reverts back to her viperous dismissiveness and narcissism, almost in spite of herself. A crime is committed and there is a trial.  Sleazy district attorney  Danny Buck Davidson (Matthew McConaughey: see my April 5, 2011 review of “Lincoln Lawyer”) struts in his Stetson and cowboy boots, grandstanding in the courtroom for a justice the community of Carthage could care less about. The script, which Linklater wrote with Skip Hollandsworth, is masterful in presenting this ambivalence and confusion.

Bernie is vibrant, a showman, flamboyant and loved.  It would be so easy for Jack Black to overact.  He doesn’t, instead giving a soulful and restrained performance as someone who needs to be kind to everyone he meets. There is a sense of affection and respect for the people of Carthage in every facial expression and gesture and Black never stoops to caricature.   The outtakes show the actor talking with the real Bernie Tiede.  For Jack Black’s performance this movie is worth seeing!