There is a scene in Boyhood where the mom reads the first Harry Potter book to her two young kids. There are plenty of moments like that in this movie and as a whole it doesn’t last for more than 20 seconds and yet this is one of the moments that impacts me the most in a film of moving and beautifully portrayed scenes. I remember when I was just 6 or 7 and my mom read the Potter books to us. The movie perfectly captures that feeling of comfort and poignancy as it happened.
As many of you may know, acclaimed director Richard Linklater shot Boyhood for 12 years in trying to show the passing of time. This is an epic like no other that I believe has ever been created. The film isn’t built from intense music or over the top and melodramatic scenes like most epic movies (Ben Hur, Gone with the Wind, The Wolf of Wall Street). Boyhood is built from perfectly placed glimpses into the growth of a human being in this time period.
We follow Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) and his experiences with his family including his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and his divorced parents Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke). over the course of 12 years. Along the way, Mason learns, deals with and adapts to heartbreak, anger, imperfection and a slew of other things.
I can name just one minor, miniscule storyline in a movie of endless storylines that felt forced and out of place. Besides that single detail, this movie in the best way possible comes off as a journey through the first part of a man’s life the way of a photo album. These images we are given over the course of the movie never really have a real beginning, middle or end but instead show us the times, the person and the experiences. Sometimes these images hold on to larger moments like the surrounding tension of Mason’s mom having a drunken 2nd husband and some of the time these images capture the finer and more simplistic moments in our lives. Mason listening to his mom read Harry Potter isn’t something that pushes the story forward but the great writing, direction and acting makes it something that clearly gives us this a look at whose these people are and how we are like them. These are moments that all of us have felt no matter how young or old and the movie shows us human evolution not through set points but instead through a dreamlike collage of the soul.
The movie doesn’t feel the need to do something overly dramatic because that is the talent of Richard Linklater’s astonishing writing. He gives us incredible characters through simple moments like a drive in the car or a walk in the forest. He doesn’t have to spoon feed everything to the audience because of how rich and compelling his work is. The characters in this movie are raw and compassionate no matter the impact to the narrative and it is that that allows them to create such an ambitious tale with a daring structure. The dialogue he builds is firstly real but is also fascinating. They contemplate deep thoughts; they experience big feelings and remain very down to earth above it all. You can try something like what Richard Linklater did only if you have the talent to pull his off and he far and away proves that this is something he has the ability to do.
Equally impressive is all of the acting from the entire cast. I am impressed at how well Ellar Coltrane built this character over 12 years of filmmaking. We subtly take a young child and show him grow up and it never drifts and it never begins to feel artificial. It isn’t that he has a real breathtaking moment but I think in his subtly he shows the growth of this person to its most grounded in reality. We see him as he learns about all of these things and later on we observe him trying to figure the world as an ambitious teenager. Ellar’s role in the film doesn’t work because of scenes of him yelling or camping it up but rather out of the ease that comes in the trip of the character. I usually prefer intense performances but every once in a while it’s nice to see how well this style of acting can work.
The film does an excellent job of showing the troubles that come with divorced parents and as someone with parents who are now separated I can say that the film really hit home because of how perfectly created the characters of the mom and dad are as I could find large details of my own mom and dad in what this film created with those two people.
Patricia Arquette takes the cake for best performance in the film with what will most likely be the best supporting actress performance this entire year. As Mason’s single mom, we see the moving and touching struggle this person has to go through and she has to carry the most dramatic moments of the movie. You see her react to these hard things that happen to her and they portray it with the utmost attention to the human condition. She has the moments that give her the most room to act with energy but she doesn’t use it to get her Oscar moment like August: Osage County but instead she uses it to build this brilliant image of someone who has to be strong for her kids but is confused and slips up sometimes in life.
Ethan Hawke is just as subtle as Ellar Coltrane in portraying Mason’s father but he presents us with someone flawed but also caring and at times hilarious. What the people in this film deal with in that aspect is far more intense than anything that I ever had to go through but I feel like Linklater presented us with these two very complex people who I think we can all find things from our own parents within. Everyone in the movie seems to be real and heartfelt as to what they are getting across and because of that it helps to create Linklater’s vision.
Director Richard Linklater is at his best when he is capturing the simple moments of our existence as with The Before Trilogy, Slacker and Dazed and Confused. While I think Dazed and Confused is my personal choice of his filmography, I understand that this is most likely his most definitive movie of his career. Nothing he will ever make after this will be able to sum up his themes as well as the scale of Boyhood is able to do. He takes everything he has been doing and he transforms it into this bold and gigantic epic of the growth of people.
If you see one movie from this movie from what has come out so far, check out Boyhood. This movie perfectly traces the joy of life in the smaller moments and in the details rather than in a clear and placed narrative. Over time, this may very well show to be Linklater’s masterpiece but for now the movie will have to settle for being one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while, new or classic. Boyhood features many moments and touches that we can all relate to in some way and because of that we can’t help but feel as though we have gone on this journey with Mason by the time we get the final shot on Mason sitting on a rock in a desert.
Review by: Ryan M.
Release Date: 7/18/2014
Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Elijah Smith and Lorelei Linklater
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater