Written & Directed by Richard Linklater
It seems a bit silly writing about a film that came out much earlier this past year and has so much already written about it. Boyhood is one of the best reviewed films of the past year and is up for a slew of awards this season. For that reason it feels a little intimidating to write about. What can I add to the conversation, after all? What can I say that is different or hasn’t been said before? Perhaps not much, but when I finally got around to seeing the film which I had as my most anticipated of the year last year, I knew I would have to come and write about it, if for no other reason than for myself. Writing about Boyhood, I am hoping, will be a cathartic experience for me. So here goes.
By now, a good number of people are familiar with the story behind the production of the film. Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise trilogy) set out to make a film about a boy growing up, using the same cast over a twelve year period, filming for a week each year. His star, Ellar Coltrane, plays Mason, a young boy living in Texas with his mother (Patricia Arquette) and sister (Lorelei Linklater). Mason’s father (Ethan Hawke), who is divorced from his mother, returns from Alaska to become a part of his life. A good picture of the modern family, the film sees the world through Mason’s eyes, one of its greatest strengths.
Perhaps the film’s greatest strength, however, is its authenticity. Linklater presents us with plenty of opportunity for high drama, placing Mason in situations that could end badly, or go many different ways. Instead of going the conventional cinematic route, the film instead chooses the realistic one. Boyhood is nothing more than a little slice of life, and it doesn’t have to be to be completely engaging and interesting. I sat there at every moment, affirming to myself that yes, this is boyhood. The choice to play it straight and close to reality may make the film seem dull to some, but to me, it made it relatable, it made it entertaining, and it made it all the powerful.
Seeing the film through Mason’s eyes adds to this sense of muted drama and heightened reality. By following Mason’s view, we fail to see all the details of his mother and her multiple troubled relationships, her struggles as a single mother. But that’s life. As children we rarely appreciate our parents as we should. The same goes for his father. Why did he leave for Alaska, why did his parents split up? Linklater presents us with bits of these stories but never satiates the appetite to know all about them because this isn’t their story. This is Mason’s story, and it’s a brilliant one.
Most impressive about the whole film is Linklater’s dedication and consistency of vision for a project sprawling twelve years. It’s an ambitious undertaking, and takes a certain level of confidence to execute to the level of perfection seen here. The scenes, while spanning 12 years, flow seamlessly together, which is impressive for both editing and directing. The cast should be applauded as well, especially the lead Ellar Coltrane. What a revelation he is in this film. His performance is not overpowering and it’s not the best ever, but I was impressed at how succinct he was able to be; a no name actor that grows up right before our eyes, both physically and professionally.
A project like this is not a game changer. I don’t think filmmakers and studios will go out and start making decade long projects. It’s too much of a reach considering you won’t make any money on the project for a decade. However, what Linklater has accomplished with this film makes it an important entry into the history of cinema. It is one of a kind, but not only that, it’s a really spectacular film.
**** – Masterpiece