“Boyhood” Movie Review

 

     In what is sure to be a major player come awards season, writer/director Richard Linklater’s new film “Boyhood” is an astonishing piece of filmmaking unlike anything I have ever seen before.  Shot over a period of 12 years,  “Boyhood” tells the story of a boy named Mason as he experiences life from age 5 through 18 years old.  Linklater reunited with the cast for short week long shoots each year to complete his film, resulting in a 165 minute epic that allows us to watch Mason grow right before our eyes on screen.  To watch the film is a truly unique experience as we observe from Mason’s point of view how he both copes and navigates through the various pitfalls all of us experience as kids.  Being young isn’t easy and Linklater thoroughly explores the sometimes cruel nature of divorce as each character is completely exposed to the audience for all of their good qualities, as well as their flaws.

     I find it absolutely amazing Linklater was able to pull this off.  Just imagine, he was able to begin shooting this film in 2002 when Ellar Coltrane (Mason) was only 5 years old.  How he was able to get the commitment necessary for Ellar to stick with the project is nothing short of a monumental accomplishment.  Perhaps it was easier to enlist his own daughter, Lorelei Linklater, who plays Mason’s older sister Samantha, but the achievement of bringing both of them together to tell this story, along with Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, has created a very unique film.  Linklater himself is no stranger to the telling of stories that feature characters who grow over the course of several films, as his “Before Sunrise”, Before Sunset”, and “Before Midnight” explore the relationship of a couple who initially meet on a train over the course of three critically acclaimed films.  In the case of “Boyhood”, Linklater essentially does the same thing, limiting his canvas instead to one film.

     When we first meet Mason, we discover he’s not unlike any other typical young boy.  He and his sister live with their mom and have not seen their father in over in a year.  After their divorce, we are told the father moved on to Alaska to pursue his musical career.  The mom, played by Patricia Arquette with a masterful performance, does her best to provide, but she is clearly struggling with the father, played by Ethan Hawke with an equally powerful performance, not contributing or helping raise their two children.  In order to have the opportunity for a higher paying job and be closer to the kids grandmother, the family moves to Houston, which in turn begins a recurring theme within this group in that they never stay in one place long for a variety of reasons.

     Linklater’s film cuts from scene to scene without telling the audience he has moved forward in time, but the spoon feeding of the timeline isn’t necessary as we are always able to visually identify Mason and Samantha as they grow older, even when in some scenes the age may have only increased slightly.  After a long hiatus, the father returns to Houston and picks up the kids for the stereotypical “Disneyland dad” outing.  Upon seeing them for the first time, he immediately asks them “Do you like presents?”, hinting at the fact he will shower them with gifts, take them to eat fast food, and teach them to bowl all in one compact afternoon that will end with him taking them back to their mother’s house where the realities of homework and chores await. 

     What sets “Boyhood” apart from other films of this nature is Linklater doesn’t focus on the bigger moments in Mason’s life, instead choosing to explore random occurrences and conversations which shape one’s childhood more than any milestone will.  Some of these moments will likely mirror the memories of most anyone who experiences this film.  To this day I remember grabbing my mom’s JC Penny catalog to explore the many color pictures within the women’s bra and underwear section just as Mason and one his friends does.  I also related to a scene in which Samantha pretends to cry just as their mother walks in and blames the noise she was hearing on Mason throwing things at her, which he didn’t do.  The way Linklater stages these scenes has an undeniable reality to them that seemingly brings you in to the home as if you’re there feeling the same feelings Mason is, or perhaps its just a matter of relating to the character on a deeper level.

     In viewing the film, you realize just how complicated a journey we have all made during our childhood and on to adulthood.  Mason and Samantha endure multiple stepfathers and step siblings in addition to maintaining a relationship with their real father.  As all of us know who have been on both sides of this, there really are no right answers to achieving the goal of everyone living in harmony and as Ethan Hawkes’ character says late in the film, we really are  all just “winging it” and hoping everything works out in the end.  Mason goes through a number of stages as he deals with this, and certainly has his rebellious moments, but he clearly appears to be comfortable with his purpose in life and seems headed in the right direction. 

     I can’t say enough about Linklater’s superb writing and his ability to set the mood and proper tone in each and every scene.  The acting by all involved is spot on and the mere fact we are seeing them grow and mature over a 12 year period automatically creates characters with multiple layers in much the same way a good television series would need several seasons to accomplish.  Is “Boyhood” a sure fire Best Picture nominee?  I would think so.  The film stands as a powerful statement of the American family and documents accurately the difficulties each member of a broken home will inevitably face as life throws everyone involved one curveball after another.  GRADE: A