A beautiful film, lovingly rendered by Richard Linklater, who has an affinity for passage of time and coming of age stories. His Julie Delpy-Ethan Hawke Before trio of films similarly plumbed a relationship over the years and Dazed and Confused is perhaps the best coming of age film ever made. Shot a short period of every year over a 12 year period, Linklater presents the life of a family (Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, son Ellar Coltrane and daughter Lorelie Linklater) from 2002 through 2013. We see the kids grow up before our eyes, as well as mother Arquette through two post-Hawke relationships and father Hawke through maturation from free spirit, bohemian divorcee’ to a more grounded, traditional man, with a second wife and child. The exchanges are utterly believable and poignant, in particular, those between Coltrane and Hawke. The leads, with an exception below, are very good, and the authenticity of the endeavor is enhanced by their restrained performances. Linklater’s treatment of the transient characters – Arquette’s two troubled husbands, the boy’s high school teacher and boss at work, and the others who comprise his support group – is deft and even-handed. Missing are the histrionics of most any family drama or the easy lessons and dawnings that infect the coming of age genre.
There are two problems with the picture, neither insignificant nor crippling. First, unlike Hawke, who appears to have meticulously studied his character as a changing being, Arquette is static in her role as the boy’s mother. Some of this is attributable to the stolid nature of her character, but when, as Coltrane is about to depart for college, she breaks, Arquette doesn’t have the chops to deliver the scene, and what Linklater has her deliver – a surprising, almost narcissistic “what about me?” plea – is atonal and off-putting. The film is also too long. The last stretch, covering the son’s high school and entry to college, traverses from languid to drowsy.
Still, a deserved Best Picture nominee and groundbreaking in its production. As Linklater noted in a recent interview, “you talk to business people, and they couldn’t get their heads around it. They were like, ‘What? We can’t see any of the film before it’s finished? And we don’t get our money back for 13 years?’ All of that makes people insecure . . . The idea that an executive at a company anywhere in this business would green-light it and still be there 12 years later – that’s a statistical anomaly. So if a film like this never gets made again it’ll be for those reasons.”