“Boyhood” is an astonishing motion picture achievement that will finally bring Richard Linklater the recognition he’s deserved for the “Before” trilogy. Hey, whatever it takes. I’m practically guaranteeing a Best Picture nomination…and I’ve been doing so before even seeing it. Now that I’ve actually experienced the film, it appears almost certainly a lock. How can the Academy possibly ignore the scope of this epic? Reportedly shot for a few weeks each year, over the course of 12 years, we not only watch centerpiece Ellar Coltrane grow from 6-year-old boy to 18-year-old young man, across a running time of 2 hours and 45 minutes—we witness his changes in attitude and style, the influence of culture and politics on his life, we see him rebel and conform, and we love him and even dislike him. It’s a transformation that is all achingly real. “Boyhood” is far from flawless, but it’s difficult for me to recall when a motion picture so benefited from its imperfections. It’s a remarkable and mature stroke of genius from a wonderful director and writer. “Boyhood” is a stunt…but it’s an undeniably impressive one. The story of its production should not mask its absolute excellence.
First-grader Mason Jr.(the compelling Mr. Coltrane)and his slightly older sister, Samantha(Lorelei Linklater…yes, the director’s daughter)are being raised in Texas by their single mom, Olivia(we’ve missed you, Patricia Arquette!). Separated from the children’s father, she struggles to make ends meet and decides to move with the kids to Houston to be closer to her Mom. Mason Sr.(superb work from Linklater regular, Ethan Hawke)is a decent man, but also somewhat immature and directionless. He’s now interested in building a strong relationship with his children, after working in Alaska for a couple of years. While it’s clear that Olivia and Mason Sr. will never be a couple, they slowly learn to respect one another, while Olivia goes back to school—eventually starting a relationship with one of her college professors. Mason Sr. eventually meets someone too, and attempts to commit to a more adult existence. But the primary focus is on Mason Jr., and to a lesser extent Samantha, as they keep moving to different towns, make friends, experiment with drugs and alcohol, grow, change hairstyles, get piercings, lose their innocence—in other words LIVE. And never before has a dramatic film made the process feel as intimate, naturalistic and real.
“Boyhood” is extremely patient and laid back, but also somewhat unwieldy and cumbersome. The relaxed style was the right choice by Linklater, but the scattershot qualities may have been forced by the production’s unusual process. It does, btw, ultimately result in a cohesive whole. Attitudes and cultural changes are reflected through real passage of time. It’s both elegiac and life-affirming. We don’t always like these kids as they work to find themselves…and we grimace as their parents are guilty of some poor decisions too. I managed to recognize myself in all four of the central characters, confirming the absolute richness of Mr. Linklater’s screenplay. The character arcs of all are consistently compelling and believable. Mr. Hawke, in particular, found places in himself as an actor that have previously gone untapped. I loved Ethan’s transitions in “Boyhood”…it’s among my favorite film performances of the year. Ms. Arquette is quite fine too, and she has a stunning final scene, that is rich with poignant dialogue. And we not only revel in beholding Mr. Coltrane and Ms. Linklater get finer grips on becoming performers, but the miracle of film allows us to enjoy them growing from early grade school to college age. “Boyhood” itself is a bit of a miracle too. Methinks it won’t be forgotten come awards season, adding greatly to its list of accolades already attained.