Boyhood (Review)

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2014

166 min

United States

Director: Richard Linklater

Writer: Richard Linklater

Stars: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke

Release Date: January 19, 2014 (Sundance Film Festival) / July 11, 2014 (United States)


Boyhood is one of the most ambitious and rewarding experiments ever conducted in modern cinema. It's a miracle and must be seen.

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Since I was first awed and inspired by writer/director Richard Linklater's 1991 film Slacker, I've had a constant impression of the creativity and flexibility found in American cinema's independent scene. Linklater, who has turned in over a dozen features since that time, has managed to stay true to his roots. Not just in his stomping grounds of Austin, Texas but in the liberty and also the limitations of never permanently moving his productions or mindset to Hollywood.

In recent years Linklater fans have caught wind of "The Twelve Year Project," an enticement that Linklater along with an undisclosed cast and crew have been hatching since 2002. When it was revealed that this passion project was Boyhood, essentially the story of one boy played by one actor going from First Grade to graduating high school, expectations were high and hats were already off to the very attempt itself.

Since premiering at Sundance this year and winning in the Berlin International Film Festival, Boyhood has built a wave of praise. Going in with so much anticipation and expectation can prove to be a perilous viewing, but from the very first shot of a 6-year-old boy staring up into the clouds and daydreaming his "after school time" away, I was transported back to a time and a place when my worries were few and my future was as limitless as the big blue sky.

Linklater threw his dice and gambled on Ellar Coltrane to play the film's titular boy, Mason. What if the kid turned out to be a terrible actor, lost interest or (God forbid) had something happen to him. Luckily, none were the case. Coltrane lacks the charisma and style of your typical adolescent actor, but that turns out to be pitch-perfect for this endeavor. Mason is curious yet shy, making him both relatable and a canvas to project our own childhoods upon. He forms philosophies and theories over the years and when he is comfortable enough to share those with someone we feel privileged to have gained that trust.

If anyone ever wants to know what it's like for a kid to grow up in America during the turn of the Millennium, I am going to show them Boyhood. From standing in a midnight line donned in cosplay for the release of the new Harry Potter book to the physical freedom offered by a bicycle and then later your first car, Boyhood skips a stone along the lake of our collective adolescence during its nearly 3-hour running time. It's impossible to touch on every inch of the surface, but there's a rippling effect that reminds us it's all part of the bigger picture. When Mason goes through events that I never had to deal with there's an emotional and educational experience to be had.

Linklater's daughter Lorelei plays Mason's older sister. At times you could have told me I was watching a candid documentary and I would have believed you. And who's to say it doesn't slip into that territory at times? The sibling animosity amidst the unconditional love is a key component to this film. It's called Boyhood but there's plenty of girlhood to observe as well. Then there's the parenthood angle, opening up an entire other plane to explore. Patricia Arquette plays their ever-present mother. She's divorced from their father who is played by Ethan Hawke. His is a supporting role, both for the film and the children's sake, but Hawke breathes new life onto the screen every time he shows up. This is undoubtedly due to Hawke's familiarity with the drill after being a part of Linklater's other decade-spanning project, the Before Sunrise series. 

Boyhood forgoes montages and focuses instead on individual scenes and moments. Linklater has always been a dialogue-driven filmmaker and we learn most through the countless interactions Mason and his family encounter. The film still finds time and opportunity to showcase 50 different era-appropriate songs, each a touchstone in its timeline. From Coldplay's "Yellow" to "Arcade Fire's "Deep Blue." Where were we when we first heard these songs?

This group-driven achievement reaches heights very few films have even attempted to grasp. It's somewhere between Dazed and Confused and The Tree of Life in its portrayal of the precious years of childhood and the bitter-sweet closing curtain of our teenage years. As the characters grow up before our eyes we witness the miracle of cinema. Linklater has found a way to put time in a bottle and then distribute it. This elixir of life may be the best film you see this year.

I just thought there would be more.
— Mom