Chris and I saw this film over the weekend (the 10pm showing I’m still recovering from). We both loved it. Chris loves movies and even more, loves reviewing them. He is known as the human IMDB, knowing almost everything and everyone from every movie ever made. I thought it would be nice for him to review this movie for me. So here he is. Enjoy!
Films about the childhood experience aren’t made as often as you think. Yes Hollywood makes a ton of children films a year, which usually consist of its characters having misadventures or learning valuable lessons when they do something against there stubborn parents’ wishes. Rarely have films involving children actually given us insight to what it’s like to be a growing and developing human being. The rare occasions that we have been given this window have produced terrific results such as The 400 Blows and Where The Wild Things Are. The reason for the few films about the childhood experience is that it may just be difficult to encapsulate such a thing that we as adults are so far removed from in our experience.
With Boyhood, the obvious talking point for the film has been the twelve year process that director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before Midnight) took to make this film about a young boy’s experiences growing up from 6 to 18 using the same actors for those twelve years of shooting the film. Maybe this will be all you’ll be able to think about in the first twenty five minutes of the film. Linklater is aware of the distraction of such a audacious experiment that he takes his time during the ages of 5-9 with his young lead character Mason (Eller Coltrane), so you can get comfortable with this moving photo album. Linklater doesn’t give us title cards letting us know what year it is nor how old Mason is either. Rarely are we told the exact age of Mason unless it’s during an important event in his life. Eventually you become relaxed with the idea that you’ll be watching Mason and the other characters age for the next two and half hours.
Linklater has never tried to be a flashy filmmaker, which has made him perhaps the most underappreciated director of his generation. Starting with his first film, Slacker in 1991, you’ll see a young visionary trying to find his voice, while being influenced by the conversational John Cassavetes’ films of the early 70’s. Linklater has always been fascinated with existential questions about life we ask each other and ourselves. Dialogue and the little details have been what make him stand out as a storyteller, which you see in this film especially. Early in Boyhood Mason’s single mother Olivia (played wonderfully by Patricia Arquette), has to make the decision to move with her two kids Mason and Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) to Houston for a new job. Before they leave their old home they must paint the house white for the new residence. Mason decides to help his mother but before doing so he examines the doorway that shows the dates and inches he’s grown since living in that home. Soon after he covers this detail with white paint. The continuous process of comprehending these transitions we go through is what Linklater is interested in telling with Mason. How does the world around him affect him, the temporary fathers coming in and out of his life, politics, young love and bullies. Linklater does a terrific job showing, not telling, these transitions of life with a masterful soundtrack. The soundtrack is an important necessity in this film, placing us at the time of the film without ever putting it on the nose, giving the perception that this isn’t Linklater’s soundtrack but instead Mason’s.
This film couldn’t stand on its own if the performance by its young lead wasn’t watchable, but Eller Coltrane gives a truly wonderful performance that only grows each year that passes in this film. You really get a sense that he is absorbing everything without making it so clear that he is. You care for this kid so deeply that you feel apart of his life and hope the best for him on his graduation day. Arquette is perhaps the best thing about this film. She gives a performance of modern motherhood that I can say I’ve never seen before. Never being the wet blanket, no nonsense mother, or free spirit guardian angel that often these types of films gives us. Instead, she displays the flaws that come with having to run the parenthood gauntlet on your own sometimes. She makes her fair share of mistakes, with the unfortunate bad luck with men setting her back along the way. With Arquette’s heart breaking speech at the end of the film, she steals the movie for me (it made me want to call my mother immediately after getting out of theater just to tell her I love her). Ethan Hawke is great as well, playing Mason Sr., the often-aloof father of Mason and Samantha. Hawke’s presence lightings the mood in the film, as he shows up at times, as the cool but still immature dad who doesn’t quite know what to do or say with the children he sees once a month. Linklater as done over four films with Hawke and he still manages to get the best out of him every time they collaborate.
I won’t go as far saying Boyhood is the best Linklater film (Dazed and Confused holds a special place in my heart) but it’s perhaps the boldest and it should finally get him the mainstream respect he deserves.