Movie Review: Boyhood (2014)

Details: Directed by Richard Linklater. A drama starring Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, and Ethan Hawke. Run time is almost three hours.

Wow. Wowowow. What a movie. I am going to discuss this movie at length and describe certain scenes so I’m giving the score upfront.

Score: 9/10 Amazing. So many films, independent and otherwise, try to do what this film does and no other film in my memory accomplishes it like this movie. No film compares in its expression of ordinary life and the passage of time. It is unique. I can think of no other film in the history of cinema like it. My vote for best picture of the year.

I learned about this movie originally from an article I read some months ago. According to the article, about twelve years ago, Richard Linklater secured funding and started planning and shooting a film about a boy growing up. The gimmick was that Linklater planned on filming a different portion of the film every year for twelve years so that we could watch the boy — and the rest of the cast — age. It was an interesting concept, but I was well aware that a gimmick alone does not necessarily make a masterpiece. It was still a good idea.

Subsequently, I would learn of the unheard of (near) 100% approval rating on rotten tomatoes and know that I needed to watch this movie.

Walking into the theater I had a feeling it might be a tear-jerker. I also hadn’t watched any trailers and was bracing myself for what may have been a terrible movie.

Luckily, it wasn’t bad. It was — in my opinion — a masterpiece. Not that it was the greatest film ever made. Definitely not. It is a masterpiece because of what it tries to convey and how it goes about doing it.

First point to address, the gimmick.

A part of me wants to say that the use of gimmicks in films are cheap and do not add anything to movies. Unfortunately, this movie proves me wrong. The film focuses on ordinary life and its progress. Watching Mason (the protagonist) and the rest of the cast age over real time adds immense meaning and emotion to the movie. You watch these scenes and this child become a teenager and… it just triggers something. Perhaps it’s nostalgia, perhaps not, but you feel it nonetheless.

Furthermore, one also can’t help thinking about the difficulty of coordinating a film like this over a decade. It is clear that this film must have been a passion project of sorts, where no one participating was really sure it would ever be completed. I mean, who really knows if every one will stay on board for twelve whole years?! All the way from childhood to adulthood. Unbelievable.

Secondly, the tone/approach/theme.

The primary message this film tries to convey is the mundane progression/movement through life, be it from the children’s perspective or the parents.’ A message often attempted by films, but none achieved as successfully as in this film, likely due to the nature/business of casting, scripts, direction, and the general method of producing films. Here, there is something incredibly honest in the performances as well as the scenes and subject matter.

For example, there is a scene when they were children and Samantha, Mason’s sister, is singing Oops I Did It Again by Britney Spears to annoy Mason. Then the moment the mother comes in, Samantha starts fake crying and Mason gets yelled at instead.

Or the scene where teenage Mason is riding in the minivan with his dad and he gets mad at his father for forgetting about a promise he made to Mason in third grade where he would give him his old car. Instead, his father forgot, sold the car, and used the money to buy the minivan they are currently in.

Almost every scene in this film instilled in me a sense of deja vu and amusing nostalgia. From watching my parents fight, or other weird kids in school, or significant others, Boyhood triggers all those memories.

In many ways, Boyhood is structured like memory. The scenes are not necessarily of major points in Mason’s life, but they are a hop and a skip around those random moments we don’t know why we remember, like when a sibling annoyed you or a time when you saw your mother cry.

Additionally, there were many scenes that seemed to set up a possible serious injury — like out of an action movie or something — but didn’t. This surprised and impressed me, and further reinforced how this film was about the ordinary. It was not about life altering extreme Hollywood-esque drama/plot twists. You are well aware of the beats to this story and there is something to watching and remembering these moments.

Lastly, the protagonist, Mason, and his sister Samantha.

Mason and Samantha. There cannot be enough said about these two. I don’t know if they are professional actors, but I am leaning hard towards no. And that is great.

In many ways, the other members of the cast — particularly the professional/experienced actors — detract from the film. The key to what makes this film, what makes this collection of ordinary events so entertaining and engrossing to watch is the very natural and very honest portrayal of Mason and Samantha.

You watch these two, interesting kids with very pronounced personalities grow into awkward teens with awkward body language and awkward bodies. And what you realize as you watch this is that this is what teenagers are like. Just weird and not necessarily trying to portray a caricature you’d normally see in your typical mainstream entertainment.

A stage actor would likely be out-of-place in a film like this because they would likely try to emote and express their feelings, whereas a real teenager doesn’t truly know how to express themselves. A real teenager often tries to communicate with the end result being a jumble of words that are all wrong and feel weird. And this is amazing to watch. By casting these kids (one of whom is Linklater’s real daughter) Linklater creates a film with vulnerability and genuineness not present in any other film. You really can see Ellar Coltrane in Mason and feel a kind of sympathy with him as an observer of — and participant in — the human experience.

In conclusion, I loved this movie. And it is a movie. Not a documentary, reality television show or anything. It is directed fiction and the plot still follows beats set by the director. But there is a flow to the beats and the actors’ performances that takes from the actors’ real lives… and that is beautiful.

When the movie ended and I exited the theater, I was well aware Boyhood was good. It was not a tear-jerker for me, at least not yet. However, as time went on and I began to remember different parts of the film, how I felt during those parts, the subjects being discussed, and the growth of these characters and their actors, that’s when I really began to feel that emotional lump in my chest. Much like life, you only really appreciate the film as time passes; in hindsight.

It’s a movie that stays with you and lingers on long after you’ve watched it. At least it did for me. Now, go watch it for Pete’s sake.

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