In anticipation of the Academy Awards, we polled our contributors to see who they thought should win the Oscar. Once we had our winners, we asked various writers to make the case for our selection in each category. Here, Christy Lemire makes the case for the best supporting actress of 2014: Patricia Arquette in "Boyhood".Two winners will be announced Monday through Thursday, ending in our choices for Best Picture and Best Director on Friday.
What Patricia Arquette does in “Boyhood” is not a supporting performance. Sure, the studio behind the film has campaigned for her in that category, she’s nominated for an Academy Award in that category and she’s (deservedly) won every award imaginable in that category leading up to Oscar night. And yes, as the mother of the young man at the center of “Boyhood,” played by Ellar Coltrane, she inherently provides support, as any good mother does.
And make no mistake: Arquette’s Olivia is a good mother. A great one, even, so much so that her presence in Richard Linklater’s groundbreaking film feels like more of a lead. Every choice Olivia makes—every class she takes, every man she dates—is with her children in mind in the hope that she can provide them with something more than their modest life. The fact that she’s doing it alone, with little income and little help from the children’s father (Ethan Hawke), makes it all the more impressive.
Arquette brings this tough but sweet woman to life with zero vanity and zero melodrama over the course of the 12 years the film spans—just a lot of humor, humility and heart. The subtlety of Arquette’s performance is emblematic of Linklater’s film as a whole. It sneaks up on you through a series of quiet moments—the prosaic stuff of daily life—until the scene when Coltrane’s Mason is packing his belongings to head off to college. Her “I just thought there would be more” speech—which Linklater has said was the hardest part of all to write—perfectly crystallizes the aching sensation that all of us as parents will experience some day.
He’s our son, too, setting off on his own. And Arquette’s unvarnished emotional truth provides this moment with unexpected punch.