Richard Linklater Spent 12 Years Making Boyhood. And You're Going To Adore It.
Director: Richard Linklater.
Writer: Richard Linklater.
Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke.
Where it's playing: Magnolia.
I know it's written somewhere in the good ol' critic handbook that getting too personal in a review is forbidden. But allow me to be rebellious for this review.
Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, a film designed to captivate, and it sure did me. Perhaps it’s because I was once a boy and went through all the things the central character Mason faces. But, really, Boyhood is a true coming-of-age film for anyone, no matter their gender or age.
There's something for everyone in this movie.
Walking out of the theater, I couldn't shake how much hard work and careful planning went into Boyhood. There's no artificial storytelling here. No, this film is the real deal. Spanning 12 years in a young boy’s life, Boyhood opens with Mason (Ellar Coltrane), at age six. He lives like any normal six-year-old boy does, riding bikes with friends, picking on his sister (Samantha, played by Linklater's real daughter, Lorelei), learns about the female anatomy through Victoria's Secret catalogs and gets into the kind of innocent trouble any little kid might. But the journey continues and we follow Mason throughout stages in his adolescence and teenage years, all the way to his first year of college. Boyhood does not skip any year; we witness literal growth as the film progresses. By the end of the film, the same actor who was six when shooting started, is 18 years old.
It's pretty amazing.
No, nothing devastating happens in the years we spend with Mason. But as life tends to throw curveballs at us all along the way, there are upsetting moments and there are disappointments. We witness them all. And, most notably in Mason's case, that means not being able to learn about real friendship. Blame his work-seeking single mom (Patricia Arquette) not having her shit together for that, even if she is trying her absolute best. It also doesn't help that Mason's dad (Ethan Hawke) isn't around a lot much, either. Like mom, dad is doing the best he can to be in Mason and Samantha's lives. But these parents had their kids when they were still young themselves, and they never really got a second chance at living without regret.
But that's life. And that's Boyhood.
Not only will watching Mason grow wow you, but Linklater also made sure the tight script kept in line with natural events and technology. Filmmakers have the capability of cheating — going back in time — but Linklater had to pick and choose to mention certain things as they were happening. There's a wild catalog of pop culture references mentioned in Boyhood that are still very much relevant today. Take, for instance, one really wonderful scene that involves a discussion about a very beloved film franchise that remains a hot commodity today. This particular scene — shot years ago — makes you really wonder if Linklater is from the future. He might be, actually. He's certainly brilliant.
I saw two films at the Sundance Film Festival this year that dealt with organic time lapses — the terrific 52 Tuesdays (shot only on a Tuesday for a whole year) and Boyhood. The patience and planning behind each of these films is overwhelming. Fact is, things shift — sometimes drastically — over time. It's simply remarkable that Linklater was able to adapt to unforeseen changes throughout his many years of filming.
Contractual obligations to the project aside, the cast too should be lauded for their patience and commitment. As our star Coltrane passes through the milestones and awkward stages of his youth on screen, he's also facing those same things in real life. Same goes for Lorelei Linklater. These two literally come of age in Boyhood and it's startling.
And Linklater leads his audience through this growth beautifully: There's no dumbed-down “Year 1” or “Year 2” title; we know Mason's getting older because of his height, his hair, his life circumstances. We see him sip his first beer, drive his first car, fall for his first love, suffer his first heartbreak and learn that life is about pushing forward and never looking back.
Surely, Boyhood is the most ambitious film of Linklater’s career. It's also his most career-defining. The word “masterpiece” is so watered down in film criticism, but it would foolish not to be applied here. By employing strategy over trickery, Linklater lets his story tell itself over the course of its three-hour run. But don't fret that length: Roger Ebert once said, “A great movie is never too long.” This one isn't. Time flies as we watch Mason grow up to be the person he is in the last frame of the film — a moment that feels like it comes too soon, if anything.
Put simply, Boyhood is a film you'll never want to end.
It's a soulful movie about soulful people. You just can't help but fall in love with it.