Review by-Jarrett Leahy
Boyhood is the moving story of growing up as told from the perspective of Mason Evans, Jr., an absorbing young boy extraordinarily brought to the screen by the heralded newcomer Ellar Coltrane. As Mason matures and experiences life’s little joys and difficulties, we literally get to witness this boy and his older sister grow up before our eyes. Filmed over a twelve-year period starting back in 2002, Boyhood is a truly one-of-a-kind film that reminds us how great cinema can be.
The brainchild of Austin-based auteur Richard Linklater, Boyhood is the ultimate coming of age film, as we observe this youth go from age 5 to 18. Over that time, we experience the difficulties, hardships, and frustrations of a boy as he tries to discover who he is and what he wants to become in life. Linklater, the film’s writer/director, has such a distinct anti-Hollywood persona that I think it’s easy for many to discount or forget his tremendous contribution to the art of cinema. Slacker is an ultimate cult flick, and Dazed and Confused only grows in stature every year since its arrival in 1993. Rarely has a love story moved so many people like the Before Trilogy has. School of Rock, Bernie, Me and Orson Welles showed that popular movies could still be smart and witty. While becoming the first director to use interpolated rotoscoping to create an entire feature film, Linklater pushed the boundaries of what was possible with digital animation—first with Waking Life, which examined the ever fascinating topics of dreams, reality, and existence; then with A Scanner Darkly which explored the frightening depths of a drug-addled, dystopian future. With Boyhood, Richard Linklater has officially ascended to the top echelon of American directors. It is time to stand up and give him a sincere and well-deserved round of applause. We are witnessing an iconic career in the making.
What can be said about this film’s breakout headliner, Ellar Coltrane? To say Linklater hit the lottery when casting this young man so many years ago would be an understatement. Without his unwavering commitment and faithfulness to the project over the last twelve years, none of this would have been possible. Ellar’s delivery and self-assurance in this character’s skin is truly engrossing throughout. His ability to keep us transfixed and utterly fascinated for almost three hours is a testament to his charisma. As for Ellar’s much-publicized onscreen maturation, Linklater’s choice of subtle, almost seamless transitions from one year to the next offers a very gradual aging process that only later in the film becomes wondrously apparent as we reflect back on Ellar’s appearance at the beginning. And it is through Ellar’s transformative maturation that we are constantly reminded over and over how miraculous this whole endeavor truly is. So many of us have an innate desire to leave something lasting in this world before we pass away. At only age twenty, Ellar Coltrane is off to quite a start at accomplishing such a lofty goal.
Because the film in entitled Boyhood, and Mason, our film’s protagonist, is the driving force in the story’s progression, Ellar has been receiving, and rightfully so, a large majority of the praise. But we mustn’t minimize the contributions and experiences of fellow child actress Lorelei Linklater who offers an equally impressive and graceful portrayal of Mason’s older sister Samantha. Daughter of film’s director, Lorelei was eight when filming started, and just like Ellar, we are granted the privilege of seeing her grow up on screen. Her performance as the older sister feels as natural as watching someone’s home videos. The fights, concern, and love she feels for and shares with Mason is a lasting tribute to her budding artistry throughout this process along with the bond that grew between these two emerging stars. I hope this once-in-a-lifetime experience for Lorelei was and remains a cherished memory shared with her father as they are both thrust into the spotlight these next few months and for years to come.
Rarely do actors as talented and famous as Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette ever take a backseat to anyone when working on a project as they are asked to here playing separated parents, Mason Sr. and Olivia. As we get to see the two children grow up, we also witness Hawke and Arquette’s aging, which is a singularly unique experience unto itself. Never before have movie fans and critics been asked to judge a performance spanning twelve years like they are here. Of the two, it is Arquette’s affecting portrayal of a single mother struggling to keep her family together that is the glue the binds the ever-changing storylines of Boyhood. Arquette’s ability to bring consistency to her role, year after year, is what I most remember about her touching performance. Arquette ably captures the fears and frustrations brought on by the unanticipated difficulties that many parents face in today’s fast-paced society. I hope the Academy won’t overlook her contributions next Oscar season, as Arquette is more than deserving of a Best Supporting Actress nomination.
When writing many of my reviews, I make a very concerted effort to limit my use of flowery superlatives. I consciously do this so that when I am lucky enough to come across film that…makes my insides smile, the praise I convey has the intended impact on anyone else who may read my thoughts. With that in mind, there’s no way for me to describe Boyhood any other way than as a truly transcendent film experience. For all intents and purposes, Boyhood is the “coming of age” film all others will now be compared to. The mind-blowing accomplishment of creating a film that spans twelve years is praiseworthy feat in itself. But Linklater takes what could have resulted in a contrived gimmick and turns it into a poignant and expressive film about the unique moments that make up a boy’s journey to adulthood, and in turn he asks us to reflect upon and contemplate our personal journeys. Furthermore, Linklater creates a cinematic time capsule of this post 9/11 period of explosive cultural and technological changes, all while offering a subtle portrait of the effects these changes had on the youth growing up during this generation. I tend not to make declarative statements like this so early in the movie year, but Boyhood IS the best film of 2014. I invite any other movie out there to try to change my mind.-JL