Cast: Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke
Oscar Wins: Best Supporting Actress (Patricia Arquette)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director (Richard Linklater), Best Supporting Actor (Ethan Hawke), Best Original Screenplay (Richard Linklater), Best Editing (Sandra Adair)
SUMMARY: Mason Evans, Jr. is a six-year-old boy who lives with his single mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) in a small town in Texas. Mason’s father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), also lives in Texas, but has not seen the children for over a year. After a fight with her current boyfriend, Olivia decides that she has to do something to improve her family’s life. They pack up and move to Houston, where Olivia’s mother also lives. There, Olivia starts taking classes to obtain her college degree. The children’s father also lives in Houston, and comes to visit shortly after they move. He takes Mason and Samantha out for the day, and promises to spend more time with them (and more consistently). This irks Olivia, who resents Mason’s sudden desire to be a father. However, she is focusing mainly on her classes – in particular, one of her professors, Bill Welbrock. Bill has a daughter and son the same ages as Samantha and Mason, and after some time, Bill and Olivia get married and unite the family. Initially, things go well: the children enjoy each other, and have many of the same interests (for the boys, video games and Harry Potter). At the same time, Mason and Samantha’s relationship with their father improves, as he starts to see them every other weekend. Olivia continues to take classes, and lets Bill take over the discipline of all the children. Over time, this discipline becomes more strict: he forces the children to adhere to a strict regimen of chores, punishing them if they aren’t completed; when he decides that Mason and his own son, Randy, have too-long hair, he takes them to a barber and cuts it without warning. Bill’s drinking, which he initially kept a secret, becomes more prevalent and he eventually does it openly. After Mason tells Olivia about his feelings for Bill (and how Bill forced him to cut his hair), Olivia confronts her husband: that afternoon, Mason and Randy arrive home to find Olivia laying on the floor of the garage after being knocked down by Bill. Olivia then disappears for several days without telling anyone (including her children) where she has gone: when she returns suddenly, she demands that her children leave with her, without packing any clothes or belongings. They move in with a friend, and Olivia files for divorce.
Some time later, Olivia, Samantha and Mason have settled in a small town outside Austin. Though it is farther away, Mason Sr. still makes the effort to see his children on a regular basis. He is surprised to learn on one of these visits that his teenage daughter has a boyfriend, which leads to an impromptu lecture on safe sex. He and the adolescent Mason grow closer, as Mason’s interests, particularly in music, begin to mirror his father’s. Olivia has landed a job as a psychology professor at a nearby college, and through this job meets Jim, a student who is also an Iraq war veteran. Eventually, she and Jim move in together, living in a huge house in the country. By the time Mason is 15, his father has also found a new relationship: in fact, he has gotten married and had a baby. He still periodically makes the long drive to see his children, and on Mason’s 15th birthday, he and his new wife Annie take Samantha and Mason to Annie’s parents’ house. Though none of Mason’s family is religious, Annie’s is, and so Mason Sr. has adapted into a much calmer, upright lifestyle. For his birthday, Mason receives a personalized Bible and a suit, as well as a shotgun from Annie’s father. Olivia’s boyfriend Jim has also given Mason a camera, which has led to an interest in photography. Photography becomes the center of Mason’s life, to the point that he ignores classwork in order to spend more time in the darkroom. His photography teacher, while impressed with Mason’s talent, also worries about his lack of ambition; this opinion is seconded by Jim, who more bluntly tells Mason that he is going nowhere. Some unspecified time later, Olivia and Jim break up. By this time, Mason has a girlfriend named Sheena, and together they go to visit Samantha at the University of Texas at Austin. Mason and Sheena enjoy a close relationship for several years, but have a painful breakup during their senior year of high school. During the same year, Mason wins a contest for photography, which results in him being offered a scholarship. When Mason graduates from high school, his entire family throws a party for him at Olivia’s house: Mason Sr., Annie and Olivia’s mother all attend. Only a few days later, Olivia announces that she is selling the house, and tells Samantha and Mason that they must go through their things and decide what to get rid of and what to keep. Samantha, even though she has her own apartment now, is upset about another move, but Olivia insists. Mason accepts this, as he is preparing to leave for college anyway. On the day he leaves, Olivia breaks down, telling him that she no longer knows what her purpose in life is, and that she is rather disillusioned with how it has gone so far. At college, Mason meets his new roommate, Dalton, and Dalton’s girlfriend Barb. Barb’s roommate is Nicole, a girl Mason knew (and had a crush on) as a kid. All four go hiking, and while watching the sunset, Mason and Nicole agree that rather than people seizing moments, moments seize people.
MY TAKE: On the surface, this seems like a normal, maybe even dull, movie: it’s the story of a regular kid growing up. There’s no intricate plot or mystery, and while he has divorced parents, there’s nothing scandalous about his life. Somehow, though, this simple story manages to turn into something extraordinary. Part of it is obviously the cast: the movie was filmed over the course of 12 years, with all the same actors, so that you actually see them growing up and changing over time. This is most pronounced in Mason, as he grows from a little boy into a young man. As for the story, perhaps it is the fact that it isn’t sensational that makes it good: it’s a story that people can relate to, because it’s how most of us grew up (to some degree or another). We see Mason go through all the major milestones up through going to college, and for some reason it’s fascinating to watch. For me, it was also interesting because Mason is not a whole lot younger than I am; therefore, I recognize the music and cultural phenomenon (like Harry Potter book releases), and associate them with my own childhood and adolescence. It is kind of an experience movie, like The Passion of the Christ (albeit on a much less gut-wrenching, violent level): it’s not a movie you will watch again and again, but it’s definitely worth seeing. Who knew that following the course of a normal young boy’s maturation could be so entertaining.
RATING: Definitely see it; revolutionary in a really unexpected way.