I suppose it’s not surprising that I had such a visceral reaction to Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” since I remember deeply identifying with “Dazed and Confused,” whose stoner ’70s teenagers were the exact same age as me in the year it was set.
I’m the same age as Linklater, and though many of his films have a queso-drenched Texas patina that’s alien to me, clearly we’ve lived through many of the same cultural references.
But I related to “Boyhood” on a whole new level. The kids in the movie are the same age as my kids, and watching them grow up through the 2000s was a wrenching three-hour tour through our lives. It was as if someone had been filming us the whole time — all the bad along with the good — not just the Christmas present-unwrapping or Halloween costume parades that usually get taped, but the day dad moved out, his weird new girlfriend, the teasing, and the kids’ perennial embarrassment at having parents.
Last year I found some old videotapes that had been shot by my kids’ dad while I was at work, and those too were a heart-searing experience. In the tape, the kids were just messing around in the driveway, maybe waiting for me to come home. I was struck by all the afternoons I wasn’t with them, how small and unsuited to two active kids our house looked, how aimless their afternoon seemed, and though nothing terrible was happening except some typical sibling squabbling, it was just too hard to watch.
The first half of “Boyhood” wrung me out even more than the second, which is more hopeful and closer to a conventional teen coming-of-age story. The moment the first Harry Potter book is opened and the subsequent donning of the wizard robes and round glasses — I had no idea at the time it would affect me so much to see it in retrospect, or that Harry Potter might be so important to my kids’ childhoods. There was the excitement of the first Obama campaign, and how all the kids got involved. And then there were the little things. In one scene, the little girls clutch slippery neon-colored beanbag pillows, and I teared up all over again remembering the year that my daughter absolutely had to have that kind of pillow right NOW. The music, too, is spot-on — there was that year that Coldplay’s mournful “Yellow” was always on the radio, and “Crazy,” and “Do You Realize.”
Then there were the couplings and uncouplings of the parents, which, if you’ve been responsible for inflicting the same thing on your children, will gut you even more. Fortunately, our family didn’t experience some of the harsher moments that added necessary drama to the movie. But even if we thought we were more responsible in our parenting, it’s very sobering to watch the children helplessly being tossed back and forth as parents fight, split up, find new partners and then fight with them.
The larger themes of disjointed families and the smaller moments of playing vintage Gameboys already amount to more than enough feelings for one movie. But in an even broader way, it’s the sense of time passing itself that makes the film so intense. “It’s nearly three hours long!,” some people warn, usually before they’ve seen it. Yes, but actually, the past 12 years of my kids’ and my lives seem to have flashed by in three or four hours. And that’s the hard part. Another mom of two kids agreed with me afterwards: “I could have watched another three hours,” she said. And maybe that’s the key — we could have spent three more hours with Mason and Samantha, and then we might have felt that we got to stretch out those painful, lovely, mundane moments of our own lives just a tiny bit longer.