Movie Review: Boyhood (2014)

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Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is an ambitious ode to American childhood and an intimate portrait of how time affects on people. Filmed intermittently over 12 years, Linklater enlisted the same group of actors throughout the process. The result is an aesthetic that guides the viewer through the formative years of its main character Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his family. 

boyhood-2014-004-young-floppy-haired-masonMy main concern going into Boyhood was whether or not the movie relied on its ambition behind the camera. While yes, the 12 year filming cycle does create an immersive and captivating aesthetic as the actors and characters age before your eyes, I was happy that it wasn’t the main focus of the movie. Thankfully, the point of the movie is its depiction of childhood and how our experiences mold us into adults.

Boyhood shines in its subtlety. Through seamless vignettes of Mason’s childhood we’re privy to bits and pieces of Mason’s parents’ (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke) lives. These nuggets of characterization are shown through the lens of Mason and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). This perspective helps put the dramatic moments of the story in the backseat so the emphasis can be on the human story being told. It works to great effect as we watch the residual effects of the drama seep into the characters’ overall growth.

boyhoodstepdadHowever, there is a segment of the movie that hampers this storytelling device, somewhat. It’s the most dramatic part of the movie and takes Boyhood to a couple surprisingly dark moments. It ultimately feels slightly incongruous with the rest of the movie. The drama as it’s depicted defies the subtext-based tone of the movie, however it does provide a welcomed bridge to the story and Mason’s overall growth. It also gives us insight into Patricia Arquette’s character, so I can’t fault the movie for it too much. It just didn’t connect for me.

In contrast to the more dramatic moments of the movie is Mason, himself. Ellar Coltrane embodies the introverted, reserved kid really well throughout every phase of the movie’s dozen-year story. As his character grows and adapts to different things in his life, Coltrane’s performance evolves along with it. He gives Mason a hint of charm and believability that makes him very relatable. It’s easy to dismiss Coltrane’s performance in the “late teen” segments of Boyhood as dry and boring. I would argue that his demeanor is an accurate depiction of teen life.

boyhoodstill2Linklater’s decision to seamlessly weave the vignettes together without title cards or time stamps is worth celebrating as well. Instead of disrupting the movie with transitions, he sprinkles music throughout the movie that serves as auditory cues that hint at the passage of time. This simple technique helps preserve the consistency of the overall movie and makes for a very fluid experience.

There’s a striking two and a half minute tracking shot that’s simply Mason talking to a female classmate as the pair walk down an alley. The scene is a fairly innocuous back and forth between the kids but the atmosphere that the extended take creates made me want to rewind it and watch it again. It serves as a good microcosm for the movie itself as it made me nostalgic for my own childhood. At its heart, that’s what Boyhood strives to achieve. The movie is a collection of sequences that encapsulates what it’s like to be a kid at this time and in these locations.

Boyhood is a thesis on American middle class families and what it’s like to grow up with separated parents. Linklater puts the emphasis on his characters and creates the world around them to inform their growth. Although a brief dramatic shift in the middle of the movie shakes the storytelling slightly, Boyhood is a terrific snapshot of American families in the early 2000s that will surely become a time capsule for future generations.

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8.5/10

Buy it Full Price – Worthy of purchase regardless of price. But you’ll want to see it first, just to make sure you want it in your collection.

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