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The making of feature film a “Clinger”: A labor of love

(10/07/15 4:21am)

Not many of us can relate a personal experience to a visit from the undead. On the other hand, the haunting persistence of an obsessive first love, undead or otherwise, hits everyone close to home. This is the premise of “Clinger,” an upcoming film co-created by Rice alumna Gabi Chennisi Duncombe (Wiess ’12). As the title suggests, “Clinger” is about an overly attached boyfriend who dies in a tragic accident, only to return to the land of the living bent on killing his now-ex-girlfriend in the hopes of a posthumous reunion. The film made its debut earlier this year at Slamdance Festival. “Clinger” is the passion project of Gabi Chennisi Duncombe, Michael Steves and Bubba Fish. Duncombe worked on the film as co-writer and director of photography, and her filmography includes “Babushka,” a documentary on the lives of elderly Russian women living in Kazakhstan. “Clinger” stars Jennifer Laporte and Vincent Martella as the two leads, and the entire film was shot in Houston.The making of “Clinger” in and of itself is a story that belongs in an inspirational biopic. Three high school pals pledge to one day create a feature film together, split off to their respective colleges, and, four years later, find themselves fulfilling their pact right where it all began: their old high school. In hindsight, reunion seems inevitable.While Fish went to college in the East Coast, Steves headed for the West and Duncombe herself had not intended a film career when she began at Rice. Although filmmaking has been a childhood passion of hers since elementary school, Duncombe maintained her desire to go into medicine throughout her first semester of college. Eventually, however, she changed her mind. “The thing that I’ve been wanting to do my whole life was film,” Duncombe said. “I did a lot of soul searching.”A central theme throughout the production process of “Clinger” was the tight-knit relationship between the three friends. Nothing was done in isolation. The trio utilized an alternating system of writing, where they interchanged roles between one of two writers collaborating on a draft, while the third polished and critiqued that draft. “You need someone removed from the process to really tell you what’s bad,” Duncombe said. “It was nice actually working with friends because … we could say, ‘This doesn’t work’ without getting mad at each other.” The filming process also benefited from a healthy rapport between Duncombe and her co-workers. “What was unique about ‘Clinger’ [was that] if there was a scene that wasn’t working, we would just pause shooting for 10 minutes,” Duncombe said. “And the three of us would just go into a room and try and fix [it].” Rice students should be excited that “Clinger” is recognizably Houstonian and was made possible by the local community. She compares the warm reception of the Houston support to the jaded response of Angelenos. “For ‘Clinger’ it was definitely smarter to shoot in Houston because there’s so many people who were helping out free of charge,” Duncombe said. “In [Los Angeles], [this] never would happen.” St. John’s School, located just two miles from Rice, provided the “Clinger” team free access to its grounds, which serviced a major portion of the film. The communal hospitality worked both ways as well. Will Rice College freshman Priyanka Jain was a student at St. John’s School when she interned as a production assistant for “Clinger.” She noted that she felt included as part of the team. “Normally when you are an intern it seems like you’re not very involved on set and it’s not the vibe I got,” Jain said. “[For example,] there are a lot of handcrafted decorations in a scene that … everybody spent hours working on … so you’re really involved in all of the aspects in the film.”As with any fledging indie, the limited budget presented a challenge, yet Duncombe and her collaborators managed to work around financial obstacles and were even able to allow these restrictions to function as an outlet for creativity. In fact, the framing of the premise was in part inspired by the team’s small budget. “We wanted to write a story that was enhanced by being low budget instead of stretching our budget way too thin,” Duncombe said. “So it was supposed to be campy — the effects were reminiscent of the ’80s.”With a limited budget comes a narrow margin for error, and the daily supply of crises never ceased to end. At one point, the team learned that one of the filming locations they were initially promised was denied to them on the day before shooting. “When you don’t have a big budget you can’t just pay to fix a problem,” Duncombe said. “We had to figure another way out … It was just madness all the time.” She mentioned that sometimes these problems could be solved in the script before they escalated during production, but other times they were simply unavoidable.If anything, “Clinger” is a labor of love. It is labor in that it demands the sweat and blood of its crew and creators, or more specifically, the copious amount of Vincent Martella’s arterial blood that showers from some unhinged human sprinkler. Yet, it also epitomizes love in how we find ourselves drawn to the community that supports us, not unlike a first love. Watch “Clinger” for its heart, and if not that, then watch it for Jennifer Laporte’s delivery of: “It’s a ghost laser — it lasers ghosts.” The theatrical release of “Clinger” will be Oct. 23 at the Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park.

‘Much Ado’ brings a classic with a Western twist

(10/07/15 4:09am)

Modern adaptations of Shakespeare face many hurdles on the road to success. When directors try to update or adapt the play in some way, so as to make it more approachable, they risk doing more to harm the message of the play than to help it. Too much consideration for contemporary humor and fashion can cheapen or distract from a play’s intended effect. In the Rice Theatre Program’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” director Amelia Fischer skillfully navigated this pitfall by retaining the original script and simply shifting the setting to the more familiar 19th-century Texan countryside. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable version of the play that allows the audience to appreciate the literary aesthetic of each Shakespearean turn of phrase, while also breathing new emotional and comedic life into the script. “Much Ado About Nothing” features two couples: the witty and combative Benedick and Beatrice, played by Jones College sophomore Justin Bernard and Hanszen College junior Rachel Buissereth, and the more emotional and lovestruck Claudio and Hero, played by Martel College freshman Alan Kim and Sid Richardson College freshman Abby Sledge. The main action in “Much Ado About Nothing” revolves around Claudio’s love for Hero, but the play is much more an ensemble piece than it is a story of two lovers. Indeed, the play would be nothing if not for the plotting of Don Pedro, played by McMurtry College senior Juan Sebastian Cruz, the scheming of his brother Don John, played by Brown College senior Chris Sanders, and the stubbornness of Benedick and Beatrice. As with many Shakespeare plays, “Much Ado About Nothing” relies heavily on secret plots and mistaken identities, and has enough twists and reversals of fortune to keep any audience member’s interest in the fast-paced plot.“Much Ado About Nothing” contains superb acting across the board. Even minor characters, such as Hero’s handmaid, Margaret, played by Baker College freshman Sriparna Sen, deliver their lines with conviction, move around the set with purpose and hit each comedic beat with impeccable timing. Cruz, in the role of Don Pedro, is a singular standout in this aspect, as he recites even the most obscure and inscrutable of his lines with an ease and depth of understanding that makes the difficult 16th-century English seem perfectly natural. Bernard is another notable presence on the stage, as his larger-than-life physicality and sardonic line reading fit his character, Benedick, perfectly. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Jones College senior Qingyang Peng’s hilarious rendition of Dogberry, the incompetent constable of the story, whose malapropisms and over-the-top bravado had me tearing up with laughter. “Much Ado About Nothing” is a relatively dialogue-heavy play, and the whole cast did a fantastic job handling the hefty script.In fact, for a play that is mainly dialogue-driven, the physical direction is amazing. All actors make full use of the stage, and the more over-the-top characters such as Benedick and Dogberry move around with a manic intensity that corresponds perfectly to their words. Nowhere is this physical presence put on display more than during the scenes where Benedick and Beatrice overhear others talking about them. The sheer hilarity of their physical comedy would border on upstaging if it were not executed so skillfully, and it is worth seeing the play just to witness these two excellent models of physical acting.Since the Rice Theatre Program’s production made few, if any, changes to the script of “Much Ado About Nothing,” the setting change is entirely conveyed through costuming and set design. There are no set changes in the course of the play, but it is clear that the crew spent a lot of time and energy perfecting the single hacienda that takes up half of the stage. In fact, the proportion of stage given to set is perfectly calculated; the design works both as the adobe estate comprising Hero’s home and the open expanse that is the Texas countryside. Actors are able to shift their positions and attention between the contexts, so the set never feels too small or underutilized. Lighting changes also help set the mood, communicating the passage of time in a subtle gradient reminiscent of a setting sun. The costumes are also quite faithful to the setting, and help to communicate allegiances relevant to the plot. In short, the Rice Theatre Program’s rendition of “Much Ado About Nothing” is everything one could want from a Shakespeare play, masterfully interpreted with an appropriately light touch. Every scene had the whole audience laughing uproariously, as befits a comedic play by the master of theater. Go see it and experience the joy that comes from a classic play done perfectly.

McMurtry, H&D Plan to create design space

(10/07/15 3:51am)

McMurtry College is planning to create a Design Space in its current TV room, which will be open to students across campus early next semester. This space will house a variety of design tools and software for students to create personal projects and host design-related gatherings. Rice Housing and Dining approached the McMurtry College student body in October last year to create a committee to plan the space. The college government approved the space this March. According to Eli Wilson, a member of the McMurtry Design Space committee, the function of the space is to be a creative area.“The McMurtry Design Space will be basically a combination of the [Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen] and art studios,” Wilson, a senior, said. “We’re combining their functions and relegating them down to the residential college scale. The Space is going to be where people will be able to realize their creative ideas.”Isaac Phillips, another member of the planning committee, said he envisions the Design Space as an interdisciplinary resource for students to use tools they might not have access to in class. According to Phillips, a junior, students want more interdisciplinary collaboration, but there is not currently any place on campus for student groups to work together on a project. He hopes the Design Space will meet that need.“If you’re not in the right major, you can’t gain access to certain buildings like the [Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen],” Phillips said. “Students want to widen their horizons and get hands-on experience, and the Design Space will help them do so ... At the McMurtry Design Space, students can work on individual projects and have access to tools for art, engineering and technology.”According to Wilson, the Design Space will have four uses: creating art, building models, giving students access to technology and holding gatherings. It is set to feature a wide variety of tools, including a laser cutter, Adobe Creative Suite, music writing programs and coding platforms such as Rhino. In addition to these tools, the committee plans to allocate ample space to potentially hold group meetings, so that students can hold design workshops in the future.All of the funding for the space has been provided by H&D. According to Phillips and Wilson, the planning committee has not been given a specific budget but everything the committee requested to purchase has been approved by H&D so far. “Once the space opens in spring 2016, access to the Design Space will be available to all interested students after taking a training quiz similar to that required for OEDK access,” Wilson said. According to Wilson and Phillips, the committee in charge of creating it has already received interest from members of other colleges to help create similar spaces at their own colleges. Therefore, the success of the McMurtry Design Space could set a powerful precedent for future residential college design spaces to follow.

SA looks into economic inequality

(10/07/15 3:50am)

The Student Association is taking steps to address the challenges faced by low-income and first-generation college students. Lovett College President Griffin Thomas has proposed the creation of the Student Access and Success Working Group, which would aim to make the Rice experience more accessible for all students. “The idea is to reach out to the entire student body to collect information and create a list of a lot of the issues that first-generation and low-income students face,” Thomas, a junior, said. “Ideally it would be a completely comprehensive list. That’s going to be very difficult to do but we want to get a wide sample about these huge issues that they’re facing.” Thomas has clear goals for what he wants for the initiative by the end of the academic year. Once he gathers more information, Thomas said he aims to start helping low-income and first-generation students directly, working with organizations like Generation College in addition to the serveries and leadership development programs on campus. “Once that comprehensive list is created, our goal is going to be to try to rectify some of these problems,” Thomas said. “It could be small changes or large system changes. One of the ideas that has been thrown out is leadership development, because some of the low-income students can’t necessarily participate in some of the leadership activities on campus because they also have to work.”Griffin, however, said he believes Rice already does aid low-income and first-generation students, pointing to many of the resources that Rice provides.“At all universities low-income and first-generation students face challenges that other students don’t face,” Thomas said. “Rice actually has a lot more programs for these students [in comparison to other universities]. Our Office of Academic Advising and Office of Student Success Initiatives are very robust, as well as our peer academic advising network, our academic fellows program [and] our Center for Written, Oral and Visual Communication.”The SA will vote on the Student Access and Success working group on Oct. 14. While the working group is currently a one-year initiative, Thomas sees it as a potential springboard for future change on campus. The future of the initiative itself is dependent on what SA leadership decides at the end of the year. “[The future of the program] depends on how the working group goes this semester,” Thomas said. “Putting these issues into the hearts and minds of students and administrators may be enough but I could also see it expanding into a standing committee or have an organization that works on it.” For now, Thomas said spreading awareness is the group’s primary objective. “We’re not going to be able to fix everything in one year — that’s just not feasible,” Thomas said. “[I want to be able to say] that we developed a list that brought the issues to light so that future students and administrators can’t say, ‘I didn’t know this was an issue.’ Second, ideally we’re going to start the process of trying to correct some of these things.” 

Measure for Measure renews a classic: A-

(03/18/15 5:46am)

The Victorians thought that each “translation” of a play served to enrich rather than rob the original source of the adaptation. This well-acted and well-produced adaptation maintains a faithful dialogue with Shakespeare’s original work, while adding an innovative and contemporary touch to this profound and complex comedy.The play is framed by the soft lighting of the Baker Commons, which adds a collegiate feel to complement the well-manufactured theatrical atmosphere of the makeshift stage. The decadent couches, elevated chairs and blood-red carpet around the center stage lend themselves to an overall ambience reminiscent of a local or community theater, so the audience does not feel far removed from the action. Excellent management of light, sound, costuming and set throughout the play serve to accentuate the intensity of the performance and deserve special recognition for tact and subtlety. The performance itself parallels the tone of the Great Bard’s original lyrics, vacillating between dark cynicism and outrageously offensive humor. In Victorian times, this play was considered painful and shocking and antagonized traditional sensibilities. While it may fail to shock contemporary viewers, the provocative edge that pushes this play above a theatrical exercise provides enough added value to make this performance well worth the price of entrance. Sex toys and a steamy pole dance are excellent, even if slightly forced, additions, and the lewd puns and metaphors of the original piece are humorously delivered well, though their shock value has eroded. Measure for Measure’s actors and actresses overwhelmingly turn in a talented and well-rehearsed performance, delivering Shakespeare’s lines with uncanny experience and verve. Ian Mauzy (Baker College ’14) delivers a tremendous performance as Duke Vicentio, breathing life into a truly complex character. Mauzy handles the profound and resonant motifs of mercy, justice and hypocrisy equitably with sharp, concealed wit, compassion and even a self-aware sense of personal fallacy. Mauzy sketches for the audience a multi-dimensional creature which must at least reflect Shakespeare’s vision for such a central yet divisive force in the play. Kevin Mullin (Jones College freshman) delivers an intense performance as the corrupted Angelo and masterfully presents the tortured duality of his both tragic and detestablecharacter. Yena Han (Duncan College sophomore), in her role as Mistress Overdone, adds an artistic and provocative edge to the play with a performance that would have shocked Victorian audiences. While the pole dancing provides a fun and necessary extra, the pole itself does not quite earn its position in the front and center of the stage, as it is rarely used throughout the performance. Max Payton (Wiess College senior) and Kathryn Hokamp (Martel College junior) provide lighthearted comic relief as Lucio and Pompey, respectively, and inject much-needed comedy into a play that often alarmingly balances on the edge of tragedy. Overall, director Joseph Lockett, a Hanszen College alumnus, offers an admirable presentation of one of Shakespeare’s darker comedies. Measure for Measure is a faithful and extravagant mesh of proud literary prose and Shakespearean tradition, simultaneously colluding with a touch of comically licentious avant-garde revision. 

The mystery behind the boba tea craze

(03/18/15 5:44am)

When Kung Fu Tea opened a new location in Montrose, the people rejoiced. It’s no question boba is beloved among Rice University students, but it hasn’t always been so easy to find. There are stellar options in the heart of Chinatown, but not everyone can just drive there for a late-night run. Teahouse is close, but exceedingly average in comparison. Until Kung Fu’s arrival, most students had to turn to boba sales that occur in the Rice Memorial Center to satisfy cravings.It has always struck me how popular boba has become. The craze is not confined to Rice’s campus, either, but has spread almost worldwide. Hordes clamor for the tea mixed with a scoop of tapioca bobbing at the bottom, which hails from Taiwan. The original flavor is milk tea (black tea with non-dairy creamer), a staple for all first-timers. To the unfamiliar, even this basic flavor may seem a little bizarre, even unappealing. And depending on your order, the drink can cost $4 to $5, a relatively expensive sum for a beverage that doesn’t require much skill to make on the spot. Most shops just fill the plastic cup with tea, add some powder to supply a fruit flavor if so desired and plop in some tapioca. One could purchase a smooth, creamy latte decorated with foamy art from an upscale coffee shop for the same price.Perhaps boba’s fame can be attributed to its reputation for variety. Boba shops always offer tea with tapioca, but most also allow you to substitute tea with smoothies, slushies and coffee. Many have massive menus sporting choices for just about every fruit and tea on the planet. In addition to tapioca, there are jellies available to put in drinks, ranging from apple to lychee. Chunks of egg custard pudding are perhaps a bit more daring, but a good alternative for people looking for a twist. Get your beloved 7-Eleven slushie as a boba drink, or go for an iced coffee option instead. There’s green tea and cookies and cream, passion fruit and Thai tea. Boba has also become a part of popular culture. Even the term “boba” is ambiguous — it refers both to tapioca and the drink itself. If you tell a friend that you want to buy boba, you mean that you’re hankering for the drink. If you’re talking to the polite employee behind the cash register at the boba shop and ask for boba, it’s a request for tapioca in your beverage. One can’t underestimate the process — ordering boba is an art.   Furthermore, boba doesn’t taste the same everywhere. The ratio of milk to tea is different at every place, and consistent tapioca texture is crucial and can be a sign of a good vendor. Nothing is less appealing than chewing hard, stringy tapioca, and it takes time and good advice to find a suitable go-to place. One option is to try the same flavor at every place and compare taste and tapioca texture. I did this once, trying the original milk tea boba at various places around Chinatown.  Enjoy exploring, but be careful — this drink is strangely addicting. 

Taking Hong Kong one dish at a time

(02/04/15 4:03am)

I visited Hong Kong this past winter break, a bustling hubbub of activity. I would step out into the streets and hear Cantonese chatter everywhere. I dodged red taxis that veered past and surrendered to the mercy of the hordes of people cramming the trains. Nevertheless, if there is anything that stuck with me most, it was the culinary experience — Hong Kong is a true haven of stellar cuisine. Even the McDonald’s boast sleek, sophisticated cafes with latte art and macarons. If you are looking to study abroad in Asia or you just catch a whiff of wanderlust, Hong Kong is a wonderful place to explore some of the finest and most unusual eats in the world. The cooking culture varies from casual, hearty comfort food to exquisite banquet fare that includes suckling pig, roast goose and Alaskan king crab. There are numerous restaurants that serve typical comfort foods, such as variations of fried rice, chow mein and wonton noodles (pork or shrimp dumplings bobbing in a rich broth and mixed with thick egg noodles). Iconic drinks like lemon tea, milk tea and yin yeung (“phoenix and dragon,” a mix of milk tea and coffee) can be added to most meals for less than $1. Hong-Kong-style milk tea also differs from British tea. Instead, people whip out evaporated and condensed milks to concoct a smooth, creamy texture that enhances the notes of black tea.Little food carts hover on many street corners as well. These serve all sorts of steamed snacks like pork intestines, curry fish balls and gelatinous rice crepes dipped in a sweet, dark oyster sauce. My favorite snacks are these egg puffs called “gei dan zai” that taste like waffles but are shaped in honeycomb-like molds with round hollows so that the finished product looks like bubble wrap. I always eat them piping hot, and they never disappoint.Dim sum is another significant part of Hong Kong food culture. It sort of defines leisure dining. Elderly people love to wake up at the crack of dawn and head to restaurants to feast on little plates and metal tins of dumplings and steamed meats. Many people also opt to sit down for dim sum at teatime as well. Some of the most popular options are “siu mai,” “ha gao” and “cheung fun.” “Siu mai” are pork, shrimp and mushroom dumplings often dotted with bright orange crab eggs on top. These are my favorite; I love the rich and savory flavors of the hot meat juices that spill over with the first bite. “Ha gao” features shrimp dumplings where the dough is a soft, opaque-colored rice flour. The dumpling shell has a rather bland flavor, but that allows the salty and strong shrimp taste to shine. “Cheung fun” are gelatinous rice flour crepes stuffed with meats from barbecue pork to shrimp, then doused in soy sauce. The soy sauce adds a slightly sweet and salty flavor to the dish, which is often what makes it so popular. The steamed chicken feet, an interesting alternative, are served in a rich red sauce and have a rather fatty texture. Other iconic items are sticky rice covered in lotus leaves, fried squares of Chinese turnip cakes and steamed barbecue pork buns. For dessert, the bakeries offer rich, mouthwatering treats. The celebrated egg tarts melt in the mouth when fresh out of the oven and are baked in buttery, flaky tart shells with a hint of vanilla. Pair these bites of heaven with a hot milk tea; welcome to the breakfast of champions. Bakery shelves are also loaded with heaps of coconut-stuffed buns and soft breads topped with savory bits of dried pork or baked pineapple crust. They just do not taste the same in Houston’s Chinatown.

Wiess Tabletop Defies the Odds

(09/24/14 4:52am)

There’s no doubt Wiess Tabletop is an underdog in the Rice University theater world. With freshmen actors and student directors, Wiessmen have nowhere near the resources available to larger, more well-funded groups like The Rice Players or VADA. But perhaps the yearly tradition has left students with some secrets to the trade. With minimalist sets, general lighting and little to no tech, the opening comedy acts of the year had little to impress with other than the prowess of the individual actors. In spite of these limitations, the show satisfied, turning out consistent performances and a solid host of laughs. “Swipe Right,” written and directed by Ryan Deal and Mikali Khan, also with direction from Vicky Comesanas, kicked off the night. The subject material hit close to home ­— a spinoff of social media dating at Rice — and the acting was solid. Lead actress Laura Dickman performed exceptionally well, feeding the other actors onstage with her energy. Akash Ghosal conveyed similiar exuberance, jumping from his chair at one point to address the audience. “Murder by Midnight,” originally written by Jeff Goode and reinvented by Max Payton and Benjamin Laun, proved equally enjoyable. Telling the story of a classic bad detective who allegedly murdered as many people as he investigated, this act was entertaining, if not exemplary. Izzy Rodriguez, despite his obvious gender limitations, played a convincing woman, which stopped this act from disappearing in the shadows.  “Chocolate Affair” by Stephanie Alison Walker tackled an interesting and difficult story — that of a mother balancing work life and family while coping with an eating disorder to boot. In the midst of comedy, this proved to be one of the more serious shows of the night, despite its fantastical imagery (think candy bars that come to life). Some of the blocking choices, by directors Yash Tarkunde, Kathy Wei and Marlene Rizo, seemed cumbersome at times, but it didn’t upset the scene as much as the somewhat awkward attempt to balance seriousness and comedy. Dealing with a delicate subject, the act was ambitious to begin with, perhaps too much so for the nature of tabletop, and it didn’t seem to settle well. Tabletop also offered Walter Wykes’s “Family 2.0,” directed by Kyle Adams and Ariana Morgan, Wayne S. Rawley’s “Controlling Interest,” directed by Josh Kaye, Greg Harper and Sam Gavenman, “A Noire,” written and directed by Molly Cisneros and Weston Novelli, and “Nude Scene,” or every actor’s worst nightmare, by Hadi Tabani, Andie Eikenberg and Matt Keene. As a whole, the directors made the best of a resource-limited situation. The show choices played to the strengths of the actors — the characters were either common archetypes or someone around the age of the actor playing the role. These two decisions simplified the complicated process of creating a show, perfect for getting the most out of an inexperienced person in any field, but especially theater. But with so many acts in such a short amount of time, Tabletop really only scratched the surface of its material. They baked a cake and just took a bit of the frosting. Rest assured, though, Tabletop isn’t going anywhere — Wiessmen have a formula, and they know what they are doing. A&E Editor Sophie Newman contributed to this article.

Why You Should Watch Boyhood, Even if You Missed it in Theatres

(09/17/14 5:02am)

Even in a time when new movies are produced faster than the public can devour them, it would be impossible for a film like Boyhood to pass by unnoticed. In 2002, director Richard Linklater audaciously began a project that would last the next 12 years, filming with the same cast and crew for a few weeks each summer. Linklater chose 6-year-old Ellar Coltrane to play his main character, Mason, with only a loose idea of his evolution in the film and no concept of how he would develop offscreen. Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei, plays Mason’s sister (Samantha), and Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette are their divorced parents (Mason Sr. and Olivia). In essence, the resulting story is of a boy growing up, but more than that, the film is a lens through which we can view our own complex lives.In a cinematic world of elaborate, intricate plots and exaggeratedly quirky characters, Boyhood is an outlier — instead of a traditional plot arc, it is one continuous narrative where all the scenes feel equally important (or unimportant). The intrigue is the narrative’s universality; the characters are notable for their natural human complexities rather than contrived idiosyncrasies. This realness is largely what makes Boyhood great.Throughout the film, Mason grows from an imaginative, sensitive kid — his teacher tells Olivia that he spends his time “staring out the window all day” — into an introverted, thoughtful and inquisitive young man, who is often skeptical of the world around him. Over the years, we see him play video games with his stepbrother, watch porn for the first time, and navigate his way though crushes and relationships. We see Mason turn away, embarrassed, from his mom’s attempt to kiss him goodbye at school. As his hair changes style and his voice changes timbre, he feels his way through adolescence and begins to explore his artistic interests, simultaneously trying to find footing in both his own world and society.It’s not just Mason who grows up. Olivia goes from a struggling single parent to a successful, if not entirely satisfied, college professor (“I’ve spent the first half of my life acquiring all this crap, and now I’m going to spend the second half of my life getting rid of all this stuff”). As Mason Sr. becomes more present in his children’s lives, we witness his initial insecurities about being the less-involved parent. In one scene, he pulls off the road to criticize Samantha for not answering his questions about her week. When she tells him why she couldn’t describe her art project — “It’s abstract!” — he agrees to let the conversation flow more naturally. Ultimately, when he settles down with a new wife and baby, he also seems more settled in his role as Mason and Samantha’s dad.The scenes Linklater show us are clips of life, snippets of conversation, slices of childhood and adolescence. Instead of weddings, birthday parties and divorces, we see Mason’s elementary school teacher tell him to stop playing computer games so he can finish a project. Mason’s grandmother says he’s had enough chocolate. He’s called a “pretty boy” in the middle school bathroom for looking in the mirror to arrange his hair. Most of these scenes wouldn’t be particularly striking if they were viewed individually. But as the film progresses, the moments layer themselves, connecting in subtle and unexpected ways, and we begin to see Mason as the sum of these parts.Many of these moments are important and meaningful, but they aren’t milestones in a traditional sense. We know milestones as familiar, almost predetermined points in a life, significant or important events that measure change over time: marriage, divorce, the birth of a child. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, however, a “milestone” was originally a stone set up on the side of a road “indicating the distance in miles from that point to a particular place.” That a milestone measures the distance to, not from, somewhere says something about how we live: waiting for the next big event, life change or birthday to remind us how much (or how little) time we have left.In Boyhood, Olivia expresses, or realizes, this only as Mason is leaving for college, in what is perhaps the film’s climactic scene, if there is one. In a moment of profundity, she says through tears, “I just thought there would be more.” In one light, this is a mother swept up in the emotions of her youngest child leaving home, though it also points to one of the most real and immediate messages of Boyhood: there is more.In one sense, Boyhood is about growing up. It’s about family relationships and romantic ones, about how we cope with everything life sends our way. But, in a larger sense, it’s about the sum of life’s infinite parts. It’s about the ways that endless daily vignettes — the “more” that Olivia seems to search for — add up, come together and build upon one another to shape who we are.In the final scene, Nicole, a girl Mason meets on the first day of college, wonders if life is less about seizing the moment than the moment seizing you. This might be the film’s most significant message. To watch the moment seize Mason for his entire life and ultimately see him turn out okay speaks volumes to the notion that we are built gradually, piece-by-piece and layer-by-layer — that marriages and divorces, an inconsistent home life or being rejected from a dream school aren’t the parts of life that define us. If milestones are just an outline, it’s moments that fill the empty space.