Oates (and ‘Boyhood’) for Lunch

Without a doubt, the headline news at an early December “Boyhood” luncheon at NYC’s Lotos Club was the New York Film Critics Circle Awards that the film won minutes into the event. As attendees swilled cocktails, the announcement came that Patricia Arquette had won Best Supporting Actress, Richard Linklater had won Best Director, and the film had nabbed Best Picture honors, confirming the coming-of-age drama’s position as this year’s Oscar frontrunner. But for some attendees of the event – including “Boyhood” star Ethan Hawke – the biggest news was author Joyce Carol Oates, who moderated a discussion with the film’s cast and director.

As Oates, Hawke, Linklater, Arquette, and costar Ellar Coltrane settled into folding chairs, Hawke, a published novelist himself, burst out, “It’s such an honor to sit with you.” (Several film journalists looked befuddled about the National Book Prize winner’s identity.) Oates, clad in her standard uniform of demure, dark garments, smiled quickly and dove into a discussion of the film, which was shot over the course of twelve years.

“I think we all thought we were looking at real life,” she said. “It was startling to learn the film was written.”

When asked about his inspiration, Linklater, who also served as screenwriter and producer, said, “It was definitely a film I hadn’t seen before.”

“He asked me, ‘What are you doing for the next twelve years?'” joked Arquette, who plays the single mother of Coltrane in the film. “Having been the daughter at that point of a mother who was gone, I could no longer apologize for taking her for granted, I could no longer reach out. So to have a place to show my friends who are long-suffering moms, good moms, made-mistakes-moms, single moms dragging all these kids up the hill, felt like a real honor and responsibility.”

Coltrane, who started filming at six and is now twenty, said that his involvement in the film influenced how he grew up. (He plans to continue acting.) But Hawke and Arquette agreed that the director “already saw who he was.”

Linklater “chose a dreamer, and we don’t see those kids in movies,” Arquette said. “In movies we see the hustlers, we see the funny guy, we see the troubled kid, we see the ladies’ man, but we do not usually see this young man.”

“I think Ethan and I have both had the pleasure of doing Ellar’s laundry at our house,” she joked, adding, “When I’m an old woman, Ellar will have to do my underwear.”

“I love you both but I have parents,” Coltrane laughed.

Anyone familiar with Oates’ stories would not be surprised that she proved an unobtrusively incisive interviewer. As the conversation drew to a close, she pointed out that the quality of the film was so high that it had inspired an unusually high quality in critical writing. Reviewers in the audience shifted uncomfortably as they ate their cookies.

This article was originally published in Word and Film.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy