NXNE 2014: Boyhood
Shot periodically over a 12 year period, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood chronicles the life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) between the ages of 6 and 18. That kind of scale for one project isn’t exactly unheard of (Linklater’s Before trilogy takes place over 2 decades, and Michael Apted’s Up series has been going on for over 56 years) but the fact that he’s condensed it within one film makes it an unprecedented experience. With that kind of ambition it isn’t unreasonable to expect something monumental in the end, but surprisingly Boyhood emerges as nothing more than a pleasant slice-of-life film.
Aside from some melodramatic moments early on, Linklater keeps things loose as our glimpses into Mason’s life are mostly relaxed or subdued. The aimless, shaggy dog approach both help and hurt the film. The way major events merely pass by everyone might be the most true-to-life aspect of the film (Arquette’s final scene, one of the strongest in the film, addresses this aspect directly), but by the end there’s a distinct, lacking feeling as a result of Linklater’s filmmaking. The film amounts to a nice collection of the kind of naturalistic scenes Linklater excels at, but none of it comes together in a wholly satisfying way. In other words, it’s less than the sum of its parts.
Just don’t take any of this the wrong way. Boyhood is a good film, and the experience of watching its cast age over 2 and a half hours makes for a unique (but not especially remarkable) experience. It’s just that, considering all the effort put into the film (and the fervent response it’s received since premiering at Sundance), “good” feels disappointing in this case.