Wherever we go, we leave something behind. Whether it’s a t-shirt left at a friend’s house, a set of initials carved into an old oak tree or a first impression left on an ex-girlfriend’s parents, we’re constantly dropping a breadcrumb trail of moments and memories. The latest film from Hollywood auteur Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise) follows the arc of childhood growth and experience through the maturation of a young boy and his family. With phenomenal direction, superb acting and an attention to honest, emotional detail, Boyhood is a film of heart, passion and irrepressible spirit.
Boyhood tracks the life of young Mason Jr (Ellar Coltrane) from the age of six to his high school graduation. Famously filmed over the course of twelve years with the same four actors, we get to see every phase of Mason’s often difficult childhood. His mother (Patricia Arquette) has a rotating cast of alcoholic husbands, his natural father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) is eccentric yet well meaning and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) is a pain in the neck. The effect is more voyeuristic than most reality shows, a testament to a simple yet effective script and exceptional direction.
When shooting the same group of actors over the course of a year, the biggest hurdle should have been maintaining consistent performances. Thanks to a natural script that mirrors what our lead was probably going through in his real life, Coltrane remains steady and believable throughout. Ethan Hawke is a joy to watch as his boyish yet loving father and even the young Linklater brims with likeability and simple charm.
The main attraction, aside from watching a boy grow into a young adult, is the work of Patricia Arquette. Tasked with 90% of the heavy lifting, Arquette is exquisite. As the bedrock of an ever changing family, her strength in the face of abusive husbands, patience with her growing kids and wrestling of personal frustrations is an impossibly tough task, one Arquette handles beautifully. The former star of television’s Medium is officially my first Best Actress nominee of the year.
This second piece of the Boyhood equation is Linklater’s natural, sure handed direction. Wisely choosing natural drama in favor of manufactured plot points, the movie feels a bit simple and light but that’s only a testament to the director’s skill at creating real moments. Nothing feels forced. From a sunset trek to a Texas cliff face to a heartbreaking moment of domestic abuse, every scene is carefully designed and executed. There’s a fly on the wall feel to the film and while it may not lend itself to emotional attachment, tough to handle at a run time of almost three hours, we still get a sense of how they grow as a family and as people.
Linklater is also an expert at naturally moving from period to period without the use of clunky captions or title cards. Instead of a message reading, “2004” when a new year is reached, Linklater shows us by playing era specific music or hinting with visual cues. The fact the cast naturally ages helps a great deal but time and place are crucial to the storytelling. The third act suffers a bit from teenage “damn the man” talk and teen movie girlfriend drama, but it’s only uncomfortable because we’ve all been there. Whenever mental images of my anti-establishment youth get dredged up from the bottom of my brain, it makes me cringe. Can’t fault the movie for making me feel something unpleasant.
The movie equivalent to a shoebox full of knick knacks under the bed, Richard Linklater opus to the journey of childhood is one of the most emotionally bare films you’ll see this year. With a grand scope, honest writing and an award worthy performance by Patricia Arquette, Boyhood is the rare occasion where the product equals the ambition. It’s not the most challenging, cerebral or thought provoking movie you’ll see this year, but like your favorite pair of jeans, first car or high school kiss under the stars, it simply feels right.
Score: 9.5 out of 10
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Jersey born and New York bred, Bill Tucker is a writer of short fiction, film reviews and articles across a variety of genres and media. He currently writes a regular movie column entitled “Behind the Cinematic Curtain” for Revolt Daily, contributes to a fashion blog for http://www.pop-market.com and has a number of short stories in various stages of publication. When not writing, he works as an IT Trainer for a fashion software company. He currently hangs his hat in Austin, Texas. Check out more of his work at http://www.thesurrealityproject.com.