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Movie Review: Richard Linklater's 'Boyhood' Is A Beautiful, Naturalistic 12-Year Journey

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BY JOSEPH EHRMAN-DUPRE

Boyhood is a concept film, but it does not feel like one. Filmed over 12 consecutive years, using the same actors to portray the same characters as they age naturally, Richard Linklater’s newest feature is a structured journey through time. The best part about it, though, is that the nearly three hour, briskly paced film feels unstructured and unrestrained, a listless walk (and sometimes run) alongside Mason (Ellar Coltrane, bravely putting his most awkward years on display). 

Boyhood3The narrative of the film, befitting its sprawling time frame, is difficult to describe succinctly. It feels as though a great deal happens, and also as if nothing happens, a mirror held up to the swiftly moving complexity of lives that sometimes feel dull and plodding. We do get to know several characters well along the way, though. Mason’s single mom (Patricia Arquette) has bad luck choosing men and proves alternately caring and prickly toward her son and daughter, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter and a natural comedian). Their dad, (Ethan Hawke, who grows more handsome as the film progresses) when we first meet him, has been largely absent, but, when he decides to come around, figures as an exciting and likable savior from the mundanity of everyday life. 

As a child, Mason and his sister go bowling with dad; a neighborhood friend shows off a Victoria’s Secret catalogue and they ogle the women inside; mom remarries a psychology professor and goes back to school herself. In his early teenage years, Mason drinks his first beer and alludes to several girlfriends (“We have nothing in common,” he laments to his dad) and his mom undergoes yet another divorce. High school brings a focused interest in photography, first time employment, a serious girlfriend, and the beginnings of collegiate aspiration. Cultural artifacts, from Obama-Biden campaign signs to Harry Potter midnight release parties, fill in the nooks and crannies.

Boyhood4It is incredible, really, just how much life Linklater brings into focus, and how easily enjoyable the film remains throughout. He avoids ticking off easy categories of development, opting instead for intimate scenes of sometimes awkward dialogue between members of the family, their friends, and acquaintances. Mom bears the heaviest emotional load, dad remains aloof and carefree, and the kids seem to be doing exactly what they would be doing when they aren’t shooting a film. It is clear that Linklater collaborated with his actors on the screenplay, which never feels forced.

The film is shot in a naturalistic style as well, unconcerned with picturesque beauty--save for when the characters themselves notice it--and captivated by the constantly shifting faces of Mason, his parents, and his sister. Also changing is the soundtrack, an audible timeline for those who will recognize minute evolutions in popular music across the twelve-year progression. Linklater thankfully never keeps viewers guessing about Mason’s age, though, slyly editing between years in a way that never interrupts, and sometimes enhances, the narrative thrust. When mom meets the professor she will marry, for instance, he suggestively intones that their kids should have a play date while Mason looks on, seeing his mom blush perhaps for the first time; we cut at least one year into the future and Mason, Samantha, and two other children are bouncing on a trampoline in the backyard of a comparatively palatial residence. Mom and her new hubby are just returning from their honeymoon, and the audience is instantly aware of what sort of change has occurred.

Boyhood is a joyride, really, a pleasure cruise that left me smiling and feeling, well, alive. It resonates on such a deep level because it is so deeply personal, a collaboration between artists who spent over a decade developing characters and getting to know each other just as a family does. It has imperfections: the children’s acting in particular can feel wooden, we miss all the times that are left out, and there could be more moments of driving dramatic force. But after leaving the theater, I found myself forgiving those flaws entirely. Perhaps it is because of Linklater’s ambition and the relative aplomb with which he pulled off his vision, or perhaps it is because in life itself, flaws abound. 

Flaws and all, Boyhood is sure to be one of the most unique and fulfilling cinematic experiences you’ll experience anytime soon.

Boyhood is now open in theaters nationwide. 

Check out a trailer for the film, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Comments

  1. The author of this article reveals far too much about the story. Part of the fun in enjoying a film is being surprised as the story progresses.

    Why do reviewers do this?!!

    It got a 99% positive review on Rotten Tomatoes. I'm not sure I've ever seen that.
    I saw it last night, it is definitely a worthy film... although it is hardly "fast-paced."

    Posted by: pete n sfo | Jul 25, 2014 6:31:29 PM


  2. Saw it last weekend. I love Linklater's films, but I'm afraid I don't share that passionate love for this movie, which eventually becomes dull and your butt really feels that 2 hour 46 minute running time. I think most critics seem to be jizzing more over the concept than the actual result, which is rather mediocre.

    Posted by: Joseph | Jul 25, 2014 6:50:24 PM


  3. I saw it last weekend. VERY good!

    Posted by: Honesty | Jul 25, 2014 8:36:26 PM


  4. I thought many reviews overemphasized the technical feat in what is a really well-written story.

    Posted by: cgd | Jul 25, 2014 10:08:29 PM


  5. This is a landmark film.
    It's length means a commitment is required, but that will be rewarded. Just don't expect the usual plot driven movie. You will think you're watching a documentary, which says a lot about the script. Arquette and Hawkes deliver maybe their best performances to date, and Ellar Coltrane is superb.
    Kudos to Richard Linklater for the courage to embark on such a demanding project. He deserves all the adulation he is going to receive.

    Posted by: David | Jul 26, 2014 12:01:02 AM


  6. I saw it yesterday and have to agree with JOSEPH, above.

    Posted by: Alan | Jul 26, 2014 3:03:40 AM


  7. Interesting concept made into a long BORING movie.

    Posted by: Craig | Jul 26, 2014 7:46:43 AM


  8. "It feels as though a great deal happens, and also as if nothing happens..."

    So, it's a three hour Seinfeld episode?

    Kidding. I'm interested in seeing this movie as long as it's in a theater with very comfy seats.

    Posted by: Acronym Jim | Jul 26, 2014 10:24:06 AM


  9. We saw this last night. It's very good (and the running time is hardly noticeable), but it's one of those movies that's so good, you can't help but wish it was even better. (Certain characters disappear are never heard from again, and you can't help but wonder about them; on the other hand, one seeming throwaway bit has a surprising return late in the movie that provoked audible sniffles in my audience.) Warning: this is Texas and you're dealing with boys/young men, so there's going to be some homophobic dialogue, especially in the middle-school scenes, which is accurate but still rankles, especially since there don't seem to be any gay characters in the movie and the evolution of gay rights is never mentioned, though Iraq, September 11th, George Bush, Obama, "Harry Potter," the economy, and the progression of technology all get some play. Still, imperfect as it is, it's quite an achievement; Hawke has rarely been more charming (though you can definitely see his irresponsible, flakey side as well as his smart, tender one as a Dad), and Arquette is the quiet heroine of the movie--no matter what life throws at her, she gets up and keeps fighting on, and ultimately so does her son.

    Posted by: Dback | Jul 27, 2014 7:34:06 PM


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