Richard Linklater‘s 12 year in the making experimental drama Boyhood is a work of pure cinematic art, pushing the medium of film a giant step forward as it slowly unravels over the period of time, following a boy as he becomes a man. Boyhood isn’t so much a traditional film, with a structured story and a plot and instead a unique experience that feels much more like a natural progression and dissection of time, life and the meaning of it all. It’s grand and vast, yet tiny and intimate, oftentimes reflecting and capturing all of life’s tiny moments in such an organic way.
Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is a young boy at the beginning of Boyhood. By the end he becomes a man. Boyhood follows the voyage of a five-year-old boy as he turns into a young man. It chronicles his entire life from age five to eighteen in a series of moments that highlights everyday life, not just the most important moments, but the smaller ones that may not feel so important at first, but are later reflected on and looked back upon as Mason slowly sculpts himself into the young man that he wants to be.
To speak any further of Boyhood would be to rob the viewer of such a special experience, unlike anything else before it. Boyhood isn’t just a film, but instead a journey through life. Director Richard Linklater has somehow assembled a team of actors to help bring his dream to life, which involves filming a boy and his family for twelve consecutive years. Star Ellar Coltrane starts the film a young boy and ends it as a grown adult and watching that transformation happen gradually, over years and years, evokes a feeling that cannot be replicated or enhanced with special effects or modern computer technology.
Simply watching Coltrane interact with someone or something at the age of five and then again at the age of twelve is priceless and important, weighing in on the film’s central themes of life and just how important all of its tiny moments are, especially when compared to the big ones. Some might be disappointed with Boyhood‘s lack of tradition when it comes to approaching the time shifts, but most will find its unique storytelling methods to be refreshing and bold, oftentimes painting a much simpler picture than some might expect.
Boyhood isn’t about that first kiss or high school graduation as much as it’s about going bowling with your dad for the first time in years and saying goodbye to your mom once you move out for college. It highlights many of Mason’s brighter moments, while also spending a good amount of time in his lower ones and not once does the balancing act break or shift one way versus another. Boyhood remains firmly planted as a fly on the wall in the life of a mostly average young man that sometimes does crazy things, but also does normal things that everyone does at one point or another.
Star Ellar Coltrane does a splendid job remaining consistently in character throughout his entire on-screen life. Mason feels like a fully-developed character from start to finish and that’s mostly because of Coltrane’s performance and his ability to grow as both a person and an actor on-screen. Watching his earlier days versus his later days bring chills up the spine as the viewer slowly realizes that real-life is being played on-screen.
Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and the rest of the supporting cast help solidify Linklater’s vision, capturing that same consistent feel across all characters. It’s almost scary watching a young Ethan Hawke slowly turn into an older Ethan Hawke, as both his acting skills and looks become more seasoned. Same thing goes for Arquette too, who essentially grows from a young and somewhat inexperienced mom to a loving mother sending her kids off to college.
The film’s greatest moments are usually shared between the core four cast members as they simply interact with each other on any given day. Watching Hawke and Coltrane share a simple talk about girls or life is almost always more interesting than watching Mason go off with said girl or get into trouble with his own friends. Everything between the family feels more authentic and real, because of Linklater’s commitment to bringing the cast back year after year to film bits at a time.
It’s unexplainable how moving and important these moments feel and how organic they come across as director Richard Linklater slowly (and I mean slowly) unravels the film’s never-ending plot. There really isn’t a comparable film for Boyhood to weigh up against, unless you want to throw in any one of Linklater’s past films in terms of the free-flowing structure of the plot. But none of those films have such time on their side, which proves to be more than a simple experiment.
Time helps make Boyhood feel like a timeless tale. One that’s universal and true, made stronger and all the more important by its characters and their life experiences that can be looked back upon and reflected in our own lives. Boyhood is that rare film that doesn’t need pop culture references to feel relevant, although it does over-use some of the specific periods’ most popular songs to help remind the audience members what the current time period is. Boyhood also meanders into a somewhat less interesting groove towards the film’s closing moments, which can be seen as a perfect representation of one’s own life or a filmmaker struggling with how to end an endless story.
Boyhood isn’t exactly 2014’s best film, but it’s certainly one of its better ones. Richard Linklater has crafted something that transcends the barriers of traditional filmmaking, fusing together time with the storytelling methods of film, which helps create something else entirely. Boyhood isn’t something you can just watch, but instead something you experience and feel on multiple levels and something that will without a doubt become a timeless masterpiece for many to discover.
Boyhood – 9/10