(2014 - Director: Richard Linklater Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke)
Richard Linklater's Boyhood is a film that makes you fall in love with movies again. It's a marvel unlike any other and will surely be remembered for decades to come.
I believe most people (male and female, young and old) can identify with Boyhood because of its unifying core and underlying message: We grow up too fast. And in the case of Boyhood, we see a child grow before our eyes in 2 hours and 45 minutes. As a parent of toddlers I don't know how it feels to send your kids off to college, but I do know the sentimental and nostalgic feeling of realizing your kids are growing up. One second you can hold them with one hand, the next you can barely chase them around the yard.
Boyhood may be a gimmick film, but who cares? The movie follows the life of a boy, Mason, from ages 6 to 18, all with the same actor (Ellar Coltrane). We spend segments of each year of his life watching him and his family grow older. We see the changes in the way he thinks, the way he matures. It's a biological, psychological, and narrative experiment crafted by an incredible filmmaker that may or may never be achieved again. Linklater took the challenge and risk of filming with a set of actors for a few days each year for 12 years and miraculously pulled it off.
It's the closest fictional cinema has come to real life that I have ever seen. The drama and life scenarios aren't what propels the story. There's no arc that carries over throughout the years. There is no "plot". Life is the plot. It's about the stages of life we all go through that affect the way we think longterm. Sure, some of the stuff Mason does I can't relate to. That's not the point. We grow up with this kid. We befriend him because we know him intimately over the course of several years. We experience what he experiences. The good, and the bad. That's what movies do; they create the illusion of making any character relateable whether it's a cold-blooded killer or little 6 year old kid. Mason experiences things we've all experienced in one form or another. And when you layer that with progressing through his entire youth, you can't help but do what this movie hinges on; becoming Mason.
It has great writing that couples humor and drama, and is bursting with wit and charm. At first, I was skeptical that a film trying to portray and "explain" a life in a big way like this could either become cliché or be too caught up in "meaning something". A movie that is essentially about growing up needs to have some inspirational message behind it, right? But the film is kept simple for the most part. Mason grows up to be on the outskirts of normal, sure, but he never once sounded false. Even when he's in high school and tries to sound intelligent, it sounds like he's trying to sound intelligent. We've all been there. We used to think we knew it all, when in reality, we still sounded like kids. Part of that is the great casting and Ellar Coltrane's ability to pull off this role. Talk about some pressure put on a little kid knowing that his life would be captured years to come with the hopes of making a movie out of it.
An interesting angle the film took was its look at how children view control. And how almost every adult they know controls them in some form. Gradually, Mason is given freedom, or sometimes, takes freedom. After years of being controlled it's the natural urge to go out and do your own thing. But with age and wisdom comes the realization and gratitude for those that cared for you and looked out for you at an age when you were helpless. That's a lot of what growing up is about.
But the film isn't seen soley through Mason's eyes. We get a comprehensive look at his single mom raising him and what jumping from marriage to marriage, and from house to house can do to someone. We see the responsibility it takes for someone to raise a child and, although we see parents every day of our lives, seeing it in Boyhood strikes awe at the amount of love and work it takes, no matter who they are. There's a defined and glaring line between adults and children in this movie. And when adults can't see the line, it's very clear how they start to act like children. It's really interesting to see that line start to blur as Mason becomes older and enters high school. Mason has a great line in the movie about how he looks at his mom and knows she doesn't know what she wants in life anymore than he knows what he wants. There are no big moments when someone realizes they've grown up. It's a series of events.
I appreciated how the editing of this film is deliberate and jumps from one year to the next with no explanation of what happened in-between, and didn't include any post-production indicators to help the audience orient to what year it was. We never flashback to when they were younger. We stay in the present, just like real life. The only signs of time are environmental changes such as music in the background, cars, clothes, video games, movie references, political remarks, etc. There's never a big emphasis on when this story takes place and I think that was a strong decision. Mason and his family really could have grown up in any era. Sure things would be different, but I like to think the maturation of Mason would have been roughly the same even 30 or 40 years ago.
Ethan Hawke plays Mason's biological father who sees Mason and his sister, Samantha, on weekends and during the Summer. Because the film routinely jumps ahead to the next year, anytime Dad shows up gives us insight into how Mason is growing. At first, Mason and Dad talk about rocks and dinosaurs, but eventually grow to talking about relationships and the meaning of life. But what's really cool is to see Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette grow and develop as parents. Just as Mason and his sister are leaving is the moment that they both seem capable of raising children. Maybe that's how every parent feels.
I know the movie is called Boyhood but it does such a good job of covering not only Mason, but also his parents and sister, that I think it could be titled Growing Up (or something better). But my point is that the story, wisely, isn't just about Mason. It's about everyone, including the minor characters, and how they change over the years.
Linklater creates a distinct feel for this film. Shot on film, we get a sort of timeless feel. The shots are minimal, and clear. We see his usual trademarks of good dialogue and occasional long moving takes. Not quite on the scale of any of the Before films, but they pop in every once in a while. I do want to point out that Linklater's dialogue in this film may be his best. Yes, it doesn't provide the venue for long conversations such as his other films, but it always feels authentic despite endless challenges. Non actors/child actors; going long periods between filming; changing everyone's voice progressively throughout the film. All huge hurdles.
Plain and simple, even if you didn't enjoy this movie a great deal, it's an extraordinary achievement in film. It's a story and idea that can have a million different reactions and that's what's beautiful about it. It's a movie that will be dissected and talked about for a long time and a movie filmmakers and fans of films will always cherish.