It begins with 6-year-old Mason (Ellar Coltrane from “Fast Food Nation”) growing up in rural Texas with his single mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette from “Girl in Progress”) and his older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater in her feature film debut). Life is tough for Mason, and that’s what this movie is about – his life.
We follow Mason’s life from age 6 until he goes off to college. We have seen this kind of thing before, but not like this. They could have gotten a series of actors to portray Mason at various ages as the story unfolds, but that’s not what Director/writer Richard Linklater (“Before Midnight”) did here. The groundbreaking technique he used was to shoot for one month a year for 12 years. That’s right, it’s the same actor at age 6 as it is at 18. We also watch his mother, sister and father (Ethan Hawke from “Before Midnight”) age and change as people and how they relate to Mason.
As for what happens next – well these things usually have a beginning, middle and an end. Maybe something like Mason gets into trouble, tries to fix it, gets deeper into trouble and in the end he comes out fine. Forget about that old three act standard – this a boy’s life. He is always getting in trouble and suffering the consequences and it seldom gets better. Even the good parts only look decent when they are in the rear view mirror.
Most of the things that happen to Mason are out of his control because he is a kid. Most of the time he just has to deal with it. They have to move a lot, mostly to get away from his mother’s poor choice in men. Mason’s father hangs in for the part-time parent position in a way that seems real and rewarding for both of them. In fact, Mason’s dad matures along with him, which is something I can identify with myself.
The patience it takes to wait for someone to come of age to complete a coming of age movie is astounding. Much like my life, there was no script and they made it up as they went along and grounded the story in the kind of person Mason grew into. The characters tell the story cloaked in the fabric of the real lives of the actors. Time marches on, and Mason elbows out his place in the world while his parents each separately try to figure out their own lives.
The movie was touching, and it touched me in a very special place. For that reason I must give it 4 out of 5 stars. This is more than a slice of life – it’s the whole pie.
Tom Basham is an indie filmmaker. Here is a link to his movie review site: http://bashmovies.wordpress.com