It might seem odd to put Richard Linklater’s ground-breaking film Boyhood next to the fairly straightforward inspirational sports film When the Game Stands Tall directed by Thomas Carter, but both from very different perspectives show young men growing up and the mixed roles the adults in their lives play.
When the Game Stands Tall tells the story of Coach Bob Ladouceur and his De La Salle High School power house football team whose winning streak reached to 151 games. The coach played by Jim Caviezel, repeats over and over that the winning streak is not the most important thing about the program he runs. A reporter asks him “25 years coaching this team, favored to win your 12th consecutive championship, 150 wins, how’d you pull it off?” Coach responds, “Winning a lot of games is doable, teaching kids there is more to life, that’s hard.” Ladouceur creates a culture of pride, of accountability and of love of community in his players by his own example, by his teaching and attentiveness to them. He is an adult who is present as an adult to the needs of the children entrusted to him as students and players.
When watching Boyhood, you keep wishing and hoping that Mason will have this kind of adult in his life. Linklater’s film chronicles the life of Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane from the age of 6 to 18 and was filmed over 12 years with the cast including Ethan Hawke as the boy’s here-and-not-here father and Patricia Arquette as his struggling single mother. The adults in Mason’s world drag him along as a bystander or baggage on their journey to find themselves. His father played by Ethan Hawke is the largely absent, cool dad who shows up when he is in town, with gifts and advice and laughs. Mason observes his hard-working Mother’s romances turn into marriages and implode into alcohol fused disasters. He lives ever in someone else’s home and without a safe place of his own. He forms friendships and then is repeatedly torn from them in successive moves.
The adults in his life love him in their own way, but they are not accountable to each other and not to him or his sister Samantha (played by Lorelei Linklater). They parent on their own terms almost as a sideline to the bigger work of finding themselves. Mason and his sister seem to get in their way at times. In fact, in several separate cringe-worthy, Mason’s parents tell him that he was “a mistake.” The words come in the guise of advice to use contraception, “you don’t want to make the same mistake your mom and I did.”
With the little guidance he gets from his family and the force of his own lovely personality, grace works in boy and you see an artist developing from the chaos of life. After the credits role, you care enough about him to wonder how he will form family and navigate his way to adult life when he has had so few positive role models. Will Mason find a home? Is he prepared to create one?
There is no one really who calls him to excellence or to be his best self. Would that the Mason’s of the world could have one of the Coach Bob Ladouceurs of the world as a mentor to help them believe in the meaning and purpose of life and experience the power of sacrificial love.
Coach Ladouceur gives a locker room speech in which he says that his mission is to help them grow up to be men that others can depend on. Sadly, Mason in Boyhood, is not alone among teenagers in lacking adults in their lives with such a mission.