Rated – R
Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater
Boyhood encapsulates every reason why I love movies. In the midst of summer blockbusters littered with explosions and empty, forgettable characters, Richard Linklater has created such an in-depth film in a daring and historic way. Filming scenes throughout a 12-year period, there was no need for make-up specialists because everyone naturally aged during the process from 2001 to 2013. It’s a fantastic achievement and a perfect blend of great acting, writing, and improvisations.
Beginning with a 6-year-old Mason lying in the grass waiting for his mom to pick him up from school, we enter the world of the small family and everything they go through for the next 12 years. Mason (Coltrane) and his snooty 8-year-old sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) are normal children, which is certainly refreshing. Mason loves video games and Samantha loves tormenting her younger brother by waking him up singing Britney Spears. Their mother, Olivia (Arquette), is divorced and has the responsibility of being a single mom with dreams of going back to school to be able to support her children. What’s remarkable about Boyhood is that there aren’t any major conflicts or mysteries that need to be revealed. This is simply a portrayal of life unfolding right in front of you.
We go through plenty events right alongside Mason, Samantha and Olivia. From every time the family moves, to every guy Olivia becomes involved with, to the pains and pressure of growing up and making new friends, we’re holding hands with these characters with an incredible insight to a real family. A major character I haven’t touched on yet is the ex-husband, Mason Sr. (Hawke). At first, he seems like he’s the typical, irresponsible ex-husband who can never get his life together to be a full-time father to the family, but as the movie goes on we learn there is a lot more to Mason Sr. than a flashy car with a “cool guy” attitude. That’s something Boyhood does that almost seems inexplicable. After each passing scene I kept marveling at the fact that the audience was becoming more than just an acquaintance with these characters. We became family.
Something that I appreciated throughout was how Boyhood held back from the usual coming-of-age formalities of voice-overs and “two years later” captions. This is just one of the many ways Linklater is able to “show not tell” with his movie. From scene to scene everything gradually changes, and it’s shown with the clothes they wear, the hairstyles, the technology, and the trends. Everything is authentic since they didn’t have to do thorough research to relive the time, and just for that reason alone it’s more authentic than most.
The true movie magic that happens is how seamless everything feels as the time flies by from the beginning to end. Once you spend a few minutes with the current version of the characters, you’ve already forgotten what they looked like and sounded like in the previous scene. So much goes on, yet it’s never dizzying or puzzling. We can all look back at our past and tie in a big event to a certain age. This rings true in Boyhood for the whole family, especially for Olivia who at the end has difficulty foreseeing moments to be excited about after both of her children move out. It’s a genuine feeling for any parent and it’s expressed perfectly towards the movie’s conclusion.
Linklater has always been fascinated by the element of time and how it changes people’s perception of love and life. With his “Before” series, he explores a budding love that transcends and changes over time (with 9 year intervals between each film). In Boyhood, it’s all being uncovered scene by scene in one, captivating movie experience.
Though the film is mainly seen through Mason’s eyes, I feel that the most important character is Olivia. The impact she has on her children from when they can start having memories until the day they pack their things and move out is potent and passionate. Everything that she does doesn’t go without benefiting her children. As she was fighting with her boyfriend in an early scene, she cries out that her children are her everything and as a struggling single mom, she didn’t have time for herself. When the years fly by, her children become more independent and she’s able to pursue more things for herself, but nothing ever surpasses her priorities. It’s always Mason and Samantha who come first, and it always will be.
The performance by Patricia Arquette is highly memorable, starting out as a scared single mom and becoming a proud mother of two strong and gifted children. The whole cast is great and it couldn’t have been an easy process, filming certain days and weeks every year then having to rebuild the chemistry several months later. But everyone, especially Arquette and Hawke, are able to grow with the movie flawlessly.
While there is no message that Linklater hits you over the head time and time again like many coming-of-age films, to me it’s exhibiting how you cannot prepare for what life will bring you. It’s okay to be confused, whether you’re wondering if there are magical elves in the world or if you’re wondering what will come of the next stage of your life. Being confused is part of the process. Just like the photos Mason loves to take, Boyhood is like a series of photographs throughout the 12 years, capturing certain moments forever. The way everyone changes are conveyed right before your eyes, but once you see it, it’s already in the past. That’s why you can never really seize the moment, the moment seizes us.