Review: Boyhood

Richard Linklater is without a doubt one of the most interesting directors currently working in the industry. One look at his filmography and your jaw will drop at the wide range of his art. As if Linklater was not already ambitious, he proves just how far he would go as a filmmaker with the hit drama Boyhood.

Boyhood is a story, 12 years in the making, about a boy named Mason and the experiences he goes through over the course of the early years of his life. The audience gets to experience the sight of actor Ellar Coltrane, who plays Mason, grow up in real time right before their eyes. In fact, Linklater writes the movie in such a way that it lets us experience life with him as well.

When his parents (played by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) divorce, Mason and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), are uprooted from their home and move away to a new house and new school system, their father tries to maintain contact with them and give real-world life advice like a good father should. Meanwhile their mother, Olivia, tries her best to give the kids a stable home while attending school to work towards her teaching degree.

The movie follows the lives of these family members over the course of twelve years as these characters grow-up both mentally and physically throughout this near three-hour masterpiece. Linklater achieved this by assembling his cast and crew for two weeks a year for over a decade to shoot new events in the character’s lives. It was an interesting experiment that paid off greatly, giving moviegoers one of the most unique experiences I have ever seen.

Not only does this technique work in using the same actors who age over time, but it provides a nostalgic trip down memory lane that will give viewers flashbacks of their own childhood experiences. Each year of Mason’s life I was able to pick out certain things and say, “yes, I relate to that” or “oh, I remember when that song was a big hit.” Everything from the soundtrack choices to the technology references felt very genuine because they were all being used at the time of filming. This movie could have easily been filmed today with a director asking his crew things like “what songs were popular in 2007? We need them for the film.” But instead everything was used in the moment to great effect.

This didn’t always feel like a movie so much, but more like a rich and engaging miniseries one would find on HBO. Each year feels like a new episode that could have it’s beginning and end points if viewers felt so inclined to analyses it that far. But everything from Linklater’s writing and directing and the ever-evolving performances from the actors make all the transitions feel incredibly smooth.

While the performance from Coltrane is not one to write home about, it’s a very respectable one all the same. Mason is a quiet soul, and one who mainly likes to observe life happening and captures it all through the lens of his camera. The real standouts of the film are the performances given to us by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, both of whom should be seriously considered for Oscar nominations. Like everyone else involved on screen they are acting too, and you can see the level of progression they make even if their adult roles. Watching the beginning of the movie and seeing Ethan Hawke acting from twelve years ago on screen for the first time was a one of a kind experience.

Boyhood is a time capsule in the form of cinema. A simple premise with no superheroes and no explosions yet full of engaging relationships and interactions that makes it memorable. Boyhood moved me on a personal level because it challenged me to look at my own life, both in where I have been and where I will go moving forward. But it is also a film one can easily respect on a technical level for the amount of innovation and heart Linklater put into the process.

Boyhood is not only one of the best films I have seen all year, but one of the best I ever seen. Expect it to make a big dent in this year’s awards season and for it to be talked about for years, even decades, to come.