Grows in depth and age literally in time with its actors, marking itself as one of the most honest films ever made. There's never a second that isn't entirely mesmerizing.

9 /10

With last year’s Before Midnight being clearly one of the best of 2013 (at least in our opinion), it would seem Richard Linklater, whose films can be somewhat hit or miss (Me and Orson Welles was a bit more on the miss side), is reaching some kind of maturation. Like a fine wine. It would be easy to say he peaked in the 90’s and early 2000’s where his youthful film angle seemed perfectly suited for his age, but with Before Midnight, he proved he could grow with his subject matter. So how to classify Boyhood? A film that shows that Linklater can not only mature with his work, but one that required planning ahead for over a decade’s worth of work.

Boyhood was shot over 12 consecutive years with the same actors, an impressive feat in and of itself. Complicated production aside, the film is quite simple. 6-year-old Mason (Ellar Coltrane) lives with his single mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and older sister, Samantha (Lorelie Linklater), in Texas. He goes to school, hangs out with his friends, argues with his sister, and watches his mother bounce from failed relationship to failed relationship. Some years they move. Others their estranged father (Ethan Hawke) bounces into their lives, attempting to assert his place in their lives and his genuine love for them. Nothing especially out of the ordinary happens, the height of the drama being an especially bad marriage situation that Olivia is forced to endure and eventually escape from. Mostly we watch Mason grow up. Looking wide-eyed and too-wise as a child, greasy and awkward in middle school, thoughtful and rebellious in high school. This is an average lower-middle class family — divorced, single-parented, all-American. And somehow at an unholy two hours and forty-five minutes, from a man known to embrace free-form “plot-less” filmmaking, there is never a second of Boyhood that isn’t entirely mesmerizing.

Boyhood indie movie


While I can hardly imagine being a 6-year-old and committing to spend a few days of every year until college on a movie, Linklater seems to have gotten incredibly lucky with his cast. Each of them somehow managing to channel their character on demand for each consecutive chapter of their, and their character’s, lives while effectively showcasing the undeniable maturity that comes with one’s personal aging. It’s a film full of absolute honesty because it’s made in a format that embraces reality. When Ethan Hawke shows up for his first visit onscreen as Mason Sr., it’s the younger scragglier version of him we haven’t seen since the late 90’s, and by the time the film closes, in a scene where Mason Sr. explains to his son that no one in life really knows what they are doing, he’s the older, grayer Hawke we saw in Before Midnight. And not a drop of CG.

The most extraordinary and intriguing transformation is that of Ellar Coltrane, who must find it surreal to watch a film that showcases his every bad haircut of adolescence, and those in-between years of baby fat and sudden pubescent shift. Within two scenes his voice goes from high and childish to a deeper adult sound, the sort of brutal realism a film is hardly able to capture in its normal production methods. Aside from how intriguing it is to watch Mason/Ellar age, more extraordinary is Linklater’s ability to capture the molding of his mind and personality. All the musings and thoughts we see running through his head, as though we’re literally watching him learn and grow, even when we’re not privy to what those thoughts are. Linklater, a lover of loquacious films, turns off that impulse in Boyhood and allows Mason’s silences and observations to do all the telling.

Even if Mason’s experiences aren’t exactly mirrored personally with audiences, the literal zeitgeist peppering each scene and giving it so much cultural context will make it impossible not to remember those years, not so long ago, and to feel utterly transported. Moreso than other historical-ish films even, because unlike a documentary, this film has literally captured time. Britney Spears songs, Harry Potter book releases, and political references are all genuinely reflective of the fervor surrounding them in real-time. It’s not a nostalgic remembrance — though it induces nostalgia — instead Boyhood is like watching a home video. It’s a preservation of time wrapped up in an every-man/child’s life story.

As a fascinating study in mixing reality and fiction, Boyhood stands out from say scripted reality shows in that it simply and effectively holds a lens up to the reality inherent in all films. A nuance that perhaps couldn’t be captured in anything less than 12 years, and which, it turns out, is so fascinating it turns an almost 3 hour film about almost nothing into a remarkable piece of art.

Boyhood trailer

Boyhood Movie review

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