Written & Directed by: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke
I smiled through this whole movie. Boyhood is an absolutely delight. I saw this film when it was first released in the summer and really enjoyed it; I wondered if time would have soured the charm that Boyhood had but it absolutely did not. Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making passion project might not be for everyone, but if you don’t connect with these characters in at any point in the story you’re not human.
Boyhood follows Mason Evans (played by Ellar Coltrane) from age six to eighteen; the film chronicles his growth and the elements that have contributed to who the person he has become by the end of the film. The concept is that simple. The unique ambition that Richard Linklater had was to film this transformation in real time: for a few weeks out of every year from 2002 to 2013 the cast and crew came together to capture that moment in time. It’s an entirely scripted story but is told so organically I often had to remind myself that there is no real family story upon which this is based.
In Boyhood flashy technical skills take a back seat to storytelling, which means that the characters are the heart of this movie. Even though Mason is really the subject of the film, it is the supporting characters and their experiences that are most memorable. Patricia Arquette’s portrayal of the matriarch is just…everything. She is this loving, passionate, maternal woman who sometimes struggles as the singular source of strength for her family. Arguette’s character arc is by far the most challenging and impressive. I also really enjoyed the way that Mason’s father, Mason Sr. (played by Ethan Hawke), was written. This film had the perfect opportunity to depict a father figure who is abusively absent; he could have made a perfect villain to Arquette’s martyr. Hawke often articulates a playfulness that is not always conducive to being a father, but as his children grow, so does Mason Sr.; it is clear that he wants to play an active and positive role in the lives of his son and daughter.
The human relationship with the passing of time is one of the core thematic elements of the film and Richard Linklater handles it beautifully. Time passes so organically; there are not title cards indicating what year it is, no montage of the time between; much like with life, you are in the next stage without even realizing it. There were some carefully placed pop culture references that indicate what year it may be: their father’s discussion of the war in Iraq and 9/11, the book release party for “Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince”, political campaigning for Obama’s run in 2008. Besides these references it really only becomes clear that time has passed when you begin to observe small changes in the characters and their surroundings.
Richard Linklater also has this beautiful ability to acknowledge important moments without lingering on them. In an early scene the family prepares to move and Mason is told to paint over any marks that might be on the walls. He approaches the doorway where the different heights of he and his sister have been sketched; each small line indicating years that have passed them by. Linklater wants to acknowledge the existence of this and the symbolic obliteration of it within the story; but that’s all. Mason recognizes the lines, gives them a moment of thought and then begins to paint. We are not meant to lament this loss, merely acknowledge it. This makes for, yet again, an incredibly honest moment between the film and its audience.
Some of the criticism that I’ve read about Boyhood has been in relation to its pacing and abrupt ending. The film has a running time of about 2 1/2 hours and progresses at a fairly slow pace. There are a few scenes that likely could have been cut to achieve the more desirable 2 hour running time, but I found the bulk of the film to be entertaining and touching. I’ve also read some criticism that the ending is too abrupt and fragmented, that the lack of closure for the supporting characters taints the way they will be remembered in the film. The ending is rather abrupt, but so is life: so much of Boyhood has been a truly honest depiction of life as we experience it: often jagged, incomplete, and rough around the edges.
Boyhood is a difficult film to analyze. It’s a film about human experiences and how they shape who we become; the circumstances of our lives that have such a profound effect on us. Mason and his mother both seem to be struggling with understanding the point of their experiences; Linklater doesn’t set out to help us understand the point of it all, in fact, Boyhood may even suggest that there is no point. Our lives are made up of these seemingly meaningless moments that shape so much of who we become; Linklater transforms this minutia of life into a touching, highly relatable story.
Final Verdict: I just really, really like this movie. It’s sweet, intellectually and emotionally stimulating, and beautifully made. Twelve years is a huge commitment for the cast and crew to make and their genuine affection for the project really shows. In the summer, I saw Boyhood almost literally before I got on a plane to Europe for 3 weeks. I was in kind of a weird head-space, already spending too much time reflecting on my life and how I wanted to live in the future. Until the Ambien knocked me out on the plane I found myself thinking of Boyhood a lot. It stuck with me in a way that wasn’t haunting or jarring, but I still cannot seem to shake.
Awards Potential: Boyhood has been the favorite to win most of the major categories pretty much from the start. It is nominated for 6 Oscars including Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, and Editing. Patricia Arquette will win Best Supporting Actress, I would bet a vital organ on that, and there’s a strong possibility that Sandra Adair will win for Editing. The competitive split this year is between Birdman and Boyhood in the Best Picture and Director categories. Right now the competition is so tight, the outcome of that vote could change with the wind.