Movie Review: Boyhood
Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Richard Linklater
Stars: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater
Synopsis: The life of a young man, Mason, from age 5 to age 18.
I’m sure by now you’ve all heard that it took 12 years for Richard Linklater to shoot and finish Boyhood, which is truly unique and something we’ve never seen before. However, the best part about it, is that it never feels like a gimmick but rather a natural and authentic way of reminiscing in nostalgia over childhood. You may not connect with every piece of this specific story, but Linklater’s achieves something that is magical and rich, engaging us in elements we’ve all experienced on some level. The transitions are smooth and eased by the use of popular music, creating a fluid watching experience that is just riveting. The film takes subtle brushstrokes as it paints memories and emotion, but it’s not until the end credits roll that you see the entire portrait and just how wonderfully crafted it is.
The story centers around Mason (Ellar Coltrane), who is six years old when the film begins, and it’s his boyhood that we get to experience, while drawing parallels to our own. Mason lives with his single mom (Patricia Arquette) and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), and move to Austin, TX when Mason’s mom decided she wants to go back to school. Soon after, Mason and Samantha’s dad (Ethan Hawk) enters the picture to be around his kids more, which Mason gravitates to, asking his dad questions that Linklater uses to wink at the audience in a creative way. As the story progresses, we see more life changes happening around him, mostly out of his control, but we also see the ramifications it has on him and his sister. As Mason gets older, we see his interest in girls spike, how art starts to grab him and how his relationship with his dad starts to mature. His teen years are marked by provoking questions and living in uncertainty of what he wants to accomplish in life. The story here may feel mundane throughout much of it, but that’s the point. As much as we live in the dramatic, we also live in the mundane, but those moments still shape us and give us time to reflect. Regardless of how you personally connect with it, the blend of drama and subtleness feels so real and natural, that it mirrors real-life possibly closer than anything else we’ve ever seen before on film.
Ellar Coltrane’s performance can almost be divided into two parts, pre-high school and high school. His younger years are innocent, with little dialogue and realistically portrays how a six year old would react to bigger things happening around him. He’s not sure how to react to certain situations, and for an introvert, those mannerisms make a lot of sense. His high school years, however, feel very different. Coltrane lacks the charisma he had as a younger kid, perhaps because of the writing, but the character lost it’s appeal in some ways in the latter third of the film. Ethan Hawke on the other hand is brilliant. Perhaps it’s another shade of Jesse from the Before Trilogy, but it works and it works really well. Hawke is incredible and endearing in every possible way. The best performance of the film arguably goes to Patricia Arquette though. Her character suffers a great deal but she never claims the victim trope. Arquette manages to her emotion well, which is pivotal to the film, especially towards the end of the film. There are a few scenes here and there that felt incomplete but overall, she’s fantastic. Lorelei Linklater is really good in the first half of the film, but her character slowly dissipates in the second half, leaving her with little to do. She’s not outstanding but very servicable.
The music is one of the biggest pieces to the film, almost working as another character. There’s no traditional score but Linklater uses pop music in the given year the story is taking place which creates fluid transitions as well as stimulate our nostalgia throughout the film. The music is perfectly placed with each song purposely chosen to give a certain tone or feel, which was superbly well handled. One of the best soundtracks of the year.
Boyhood was an incredibly risky project but the end product feels so genuine and we are wrapping ourselves in a blanket of our own nostalgia and memories. Whether or not you grab onto this specific story is irrelevant, it’s more about placing yourself in the elements presented and reflecting on a time in our lives that still holds a special place in our hearts, in some way or another. Growing up isn’t easy for a lot of people, since we are powerless as children, things happen to us and it has an influence on our lives. We see that happen in Mason’s life in what is one of the more realistic, powerful films you’ll ever see.