Richard Linklater brings us his most ambitious, and longest, project to the big screen with . . . mixed results. An intriguing, if overhyped, concept works as a great marketing tool but also delivers a good story with a great cast. However, despite offering a different and interesting viewing experience, it soon borders on pretentious as the second hour passes.
We follow our lead character Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he grows up and battles with abusive stepfathers, negligent fathers and continuous moves across the state. The first half of the film was an engaging, slow burning look into young Mason’s life as he endures boyhood. It was great to see the same cast over the 12 year gap. It was a nice change and helped get rid of those continuity gaffs that always irritate me in movies. Coltrane is a likeable and talented lead across the years, which always helps in such an ambitious project.
However, Mason suddenly ages or the story skips a few years without any warning or marker. If it wasn’t for the fact the soundtrack spanned my childhood, I wouldn’t have known what year it was. An excellent indie soundtrack by the way. One that included the likes of Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, etc added to the film. Patricia Arquette (Medium) and Ethan Hawke (a Linklater regular of late) were perfectly cast as the divorced parents. The inevitable competition between the warring parents for their kids’ affection was predictable but nicely done. Hawke stole virtually every scene he was in and proved that he is still a reliable actor.
Arquette had to play the role a little more straight faced but she got to have her moment to shine in the final moments as she sees her children off to college, which made for an endearing moment as the film came full circle. A tense chapter in which Arquette moves in with a deadbeat alcoholic made for uncomfortable, if dramatic, viewing. Kudos to Marco Perella. He was fantastic as the volatile Bill Welbrock. A ticking time bomb with his inevitable detonation vastly approaching with every drop of whiskey.
As Mason endures love, heartbreak, disappointment and . . . life really; you cannot help but feel you are watching someone’s life and after two hours, with a further 45 minutes to go, I felt that Linklater was self-indulging a little bit. Coltrane had enough charisma to keep the film going but once he reaches 18, I felt myself getting infuriated with him. He seemed to be too laidback and without a care in the world. I mean, of course, the idea is about finding oneself and choosing the right path and making a future for yourself but Mason doesn’t care at all. You can respect it to an extent but in terms of viewing, he soon becomes a greasy haired mumbler of a teen that borders on douche-baggery.
I mean for any teen, it can be frustrating with that endless pondering of what lies next. The endless questioning by family figures and friends interrogating Mason on life decisions was relatable for any one. At the same time, I felt that more could have been out of certain scenes. You expect in certain arguments or decisions, something else to happen, only for it to wither out and lead to nothing or skip past it altogether. Mason’s issue with bullies, for example, leads nowhere. Mainly because he keeps moving school. One of Arquette’s partners appears to become another angry drunk with tension mounting between him and Mason, only for it to be skipped forward a few years with the partner gone and only a sentence to explain.
There were so many points as the film drew to an excruciating close, in which it could have ended sooner. I mean the final moments do make for an uplifting and open ending, which does work surprisingly. However, it seemed to go out with a whimper and a mumble than a bang. A different concept made for watchable viewing but a questionable length (again that phrase) seemed to slacken this vehicle. A great cast (credit where it’s due also to Lorelei Linklater. Using your own family in a movie doesn’t always work . . . not unless you’re a Coppola), good story just do enough to do more good than bad. Worth a watch if you want an easy going, coming of age drama. 3/5 for me.
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