By Robin E. Simmons
This wonderful film doesn’t just follow the youthful life of six year-old Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his family, it fully enters it. During the running time of 164 minutes – which passes quickly — 12 real years flash by as the family deals with both life’s mundane and singular issues and Mason becomes a person.
We first meet the family living in Houston in 2002. Mason’s sister Samantha (director Richard Linklater’s daughter Lorelie), is two years older. His divorced mom (Patricia Arquette) is struggling. Dad (Ethan Hawk) works in Alaska, although he eventually returns to Texas and attempts to reconnects with his family.
What makes this film so breathtaking is not just the risky, long-range vision of Linklater, but how he manages the accumulation on film of mostly ordinary, mundane events into something quite extraordinary in the shaping of young Mason. And we see it happen on screen.
In the introduction to his soon-to-be published screenplay, Linklater writes:
While the foundation [of the screenplay] was autobiographical, I wasn’t precious about it because I knew my script would be shaped by the ongoing process of working with my actors plus placing the story in a modern setting would sublimate it all. It would be personal to me, but also to my cast. Ethan and Patricia jumped in with an intense honesty not only about themselves as parents but as the kids they once were. Everything was on the table, and one of the greatest joys was watching Ellar and Lorelei grow up and begin to participate in this same process.
Astonishingly, even though the film covers 12 years of actual time, the shooting days numbered only 39! Linklater writes:
I used the time between the shooting of each section to contemplate all the edited footage and talk with my collaborators. It was in this process where so many of the “bigger” ideas or standard “firsts” of a life went to die. For instance, I remember high school graduation, but it now means so little to me it was like being an extra in an event of my own life. But why am I still thinking of hanging out in my buddy Danny’s car, listening to music and taking swigs of alcohol in our graduation robes? Maybe it’s the expectations that go along with certain milestones (first kiss?), but what I sought to distill down in this story were the little intimate moments that linger in the memory far longer than you’d have ever expected.
I can think of no other film that resides in the memory and heart like this one. It touches the soul in way we all share as the forces of time and circumstance conspire to make us who we are — for better or worse.
Patricia Arquette delivers an understated, unfiltered performance as a loving, concerned mom. It’s a brilliant performance. And Ethan Hawke is just right as the uncomfortable dad awkwardly trying to find an inroad back to his family. They and the two kids have long arcs that are immensely satisfying and honest.
Richard Linklater will receive the Sonny Bono Visionary Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival during the Awards Gala on January 3. The home video will be available January 6. Nice extras include a featurette on “The 12 Year Project” and a Q&A with Linklater and the cast. This is one for the digital library.
And yes, it’s the best film of 2014. Paramount. Blu-ray.
ALSO NEW FOR THE HOME THEATER:
Terry Gilliam’s solo feature debut, disguised as a children’s film, is in fact a dark fantasy that’s relevant, funny, stylish and — from all evidence — is very personal.
Join Kevin (Craig Warnock) as he runs away from his gadget infatuated parents and time travels with a band of dwarfs who have stolen a map from the Supreme Being (a wonderful Ralph Richardson) that reveals great treasures from history that they plan to loot. This singular film, written by director Terry Gilliam and Monty Python’s Michael Palin is equal parts fairy tale, farce and satire.
Along the way, we eventually meet Evil (David Morgan), who mocks the Supreme Being, saying, “God isn’t interested in technology. He knows nothing of the potential of the microchip or the silicon revolution. Look how he spends his time. Forty-three species of parrots, nipples for men!” But it can all be summed up when the troop finally encounters the Supreme Being and Kevin asks why we have Evil. The Supreme Being replies, “Ah, it has something to do with free will.” The new hi-def transfer looks great and the generous extras include a wonderful commentary with Gilliam, cowriter-actor Michael Palin, and actors John Cleese, David Warner, and Craig Warnock. This timeless gem is worth re-discovering. Criterion. Blu-ray