If you have ever experienced knowing someone as a child and then meeting them again years later as a full-grown adult person, then you know that experience makes for a very weird time-traveling head-trip. One that slaps you in the face and reminds you that the clock is ticking and that you, in fact, are getting very old. The ambitious new film, Boyhood, elicits those same strange transcendent sensations as it uses the same actors over an actual twelve year period and tells the story of a child and his parents growing up.
The plotless (yet somehow still mesmerizing) Boyhood is written and directed by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused), who filmed the same four actors, including his own daughter, who plays the sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), over the course of a dozen years. He had no story starting out, other than to document the transition of a boy to a man, from the first grade through high school graduation. He made up his flexible script as he went along and somehow managed to still create this very good film that is a unique time capsule of its characters and the past decade of American life.
The boy, Mason Jr., is played by Ellar Coltrane, a handsome young man who looks like he could be Scarlett Johansson’s kid brother (although I don’t believe they are related.) We see him and his on-screen sister Samantha grow-up over the course of the film’s 166-minute running time, and although that is the movie’s hook, per se, for me the more interesting aspect was the growth of the divorced parents, played by Patricia Arquette (the Mom, Olivia) and Ethan Hawke (as Mason Sr., the Dad.)
Boyhood © 2014 IFC Films
Who knew that Hawke and, in particular, Arquette had these excellent performances stashed away in Linklater’s film can over the past twelve years. This is the best acting of these artists’ respective careers and although Coltrane is likely to enjoy the most attention for his part (and he does a great job as well), the older actors are the ones who hold this movie together and give it life.
As mentioned, there is really no narrative to speak to here, and while watching the film you may find yourself asking, “So what is this about?” And that is precisely what it is about, holding a mirror up to your life and goading you to ask that complex question and reflect on the decisions you make, or have made, that have molded you into the person that you are.
You can see Mason Jr. as a lump of clay that is being pulled and manipulated into a form and you wonder, “What type of person will those influences, be they good or bad, turn him into? Which one of these adults will he turn out to be most like?”
As an aged person watching this film I was struck by how little we actually know about what the heck we’re doing in life and how unconscious we are of the affects our actions have on the young people in our midst. It’s really a miracle that most adults can manage to take care of themselves, let alone their children.
The acting, the dialogue, and the look and feel of this movie is absolutely as real and natural as anything you’ll likely ever see on film, and it’s astounding that Linklater was able to make such great choices at the beginning of this project and that they would pay off so successfully throughout its duration. Boyhood also has an excellent pop music soundtrack that blends perfectly with the film and contains tunes from musicians as varied as Coldplay, The Hives, The Flaming Lips, Bob Dylan and Gnarls Barkley.
My only minor complaint with this movie is that its running length, coupled with its mellow demeanor, is a little hard to swallow in one sitting; but I guess in real life there are no intermissions either, so there you go. Boyhood pays off in the end though, with an excellent final moment and line that perfectly encapsulates the whole of the film. Some may not have the patience for this movie, but if you dig a thought-provoking down-to-Earth epic over the latest Transformers brain-bash, then this one’s for you. Grade: 9/10
Photos © 2014 IFC Films