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Chris Erskine: ‘Boyhood’ reflects value of boys

We’re all works in progress, but perhaps none so much as little boys, whom everyone is bagging on these days. Boys lag at this and boys trail at that. We’ll see how it all turns out.

I have more faith in little boys than most, having been one myself and survived an awkward youthiness to become a semiproductive, quasi-functioning adult. Defying all odds and the tsk-tsks of schoolmarms across the land, I now pay taxes, mow the lawn, feed the parking meter. Of course, beneath it all, like a dirty little secret, beats the heart of a young boy.

When men lose their boyishness, they lose their essence. Then they lose their minds.

I think that’s one of the messages of “Boyhood,” the little movie with the big heart.

Here’s the movie’s other message, layered and literary and unencumbered by the usual Hollywood glop:

Good parents don’t just raise a child; they raise a soul.

Ideally, they raise a kid who’s creative, concerned, idealistic, discerning. They raise a kid who’s wary of the conventional, who gets to know himself, who charts his own life. In an era of trophy kids and Tiger Moms, parents raise real human beings.

Not merely a number in some school district database. A soul.

This day and age, that’s a pretty noble message – amid all the little boys zoned out on Ritalin.

By now, you’ve heard all the sky-is-falling stories about our boys. They trail in reading. They trail in writing and verbal skills.

They are less likely to take the SATs (even though they score better).

By gawd, even teachers don’t like little boys. Why? They don’t do homework as well. They’re subversive, disruptive, a nuisance in the classroom.

In short, because they’re boys.

To read about boys these days is to read about some great new underclass – America’s dirty little secrets.

Maybe that’s why I appreciated “Boyhood” more than I expected. It’s like a master’s class on the making of young men.

How do you manage to make that kind of movie in such heavy-metal times? You know what a multiplex sounds like these days? Like trucks crashing into a pile of tubas. Like Detroit eating Cleveland.

Never underestimate the money Americans will spend on mayhem. Hence, most summer movies are a form of aural incarceration.

So why do little boys lag? Partly because pop culture plays to their baser instincts in such loud and exploitative ways.

Look, no one appreciates a little mayhem more than I do, but if I read one more worshipful piece on all the violence-loving misfits at Comic-Con, I might pick up my light-saber and ....

See what you’ve done?

If you haven’t seen “Boyhood,” and that’s probably most of you, a little back story: The movie traces the year-by-year growth of a boy from age 6 to his first day of college.

Filmmaker Richard Linklater followed one actor, Ellar Coltrane, through the whole process, breaking out the camera each year to capture his physical and emotional growth. It is a movie director’s version of the tape measure on the back of the kitchen door.

His lead character, Mason, is one of those little boys entranced by clouds. Even as a young boy, there’s a wanderlust, a need for other places. He questions. He speculates. An aspiring photographer, he struggles to find focus.

At times, he’s a mess.

Dad, there’s real magic in the world, right?” Mason asks early on.

No, not really. Just parents who surprise you, who don’t give up on you, who get better over time instead of worse, who never lose their humanity and wonderful boyishness. Like Ethan Hawke’s ever-better dad.

That’s another message.

And it’s also good to be reminded that the best parents understand the vagaries of genetics and the importance of getting to know their children as individuals.

They know they need to manage the inside (values, interests, curiosities) as well as they manage the outside (clothes, shoes, haircuts).

The inside – where a budding young soul awaits.