Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Reel Review: BOYHOOD

Richard Linklater’s BOYHOOD is a film which was shot over a period of 12 years with the same cast. What this ultimately boils down to is that the main character, played by Ellar Coltrane, is literally six years old when the movie begins, and 18 years old when it ends…and we get to see him in various stages of growth and maturation in-between those two points. It is a unique and ambitious approach to storytelling which could easily become a gimmick if not handled correctly. Such is the challenge for BOYHOOD.
BOYHOOD covers 12 years of the life of Mason (Coltrane), as he grows up with his big sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), and his divorced parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke).

Classic at its core, BOYHOOD is the story of one person’s journey. Specifically, the journey from boy to man. Everything in a young man’s life before being considered an adult is covered; from dealing with warring parents, first loves, first heartbreaks, important father-to-son talks, learning to let things go and everything else. The storytelling is a little episodic in nature, but it is effective because as time (literally) passes, we can see threads from Mason’s earlier years rise up again as he gets older. This is certainly Mason’s story, and by the third act of the film we can certainly understand why he is the person that he has become, because we have followed him along the way. As far as one character’s story goes, BOYHOOD offers the most developed character we may have ever seen. There is a tremendous sense of realism at all times…as the little things that kids and teens do are perfectly captured. There is certainly a lot that everyone can relate to in this film.
Richard Linklater doesn’t seem to intrude much on the proceedings. Things have a very natural flow, and it is often easy to forget that we’re watching a scripted movie and not a reality TV shot. It helps that the cast is very talented and seemingly committed to their works. The leaps-ahead in time are handled very naturally; there are no placecards or titles that popup to tell us what year we’re in for reference…characters just leave a room and walk back in with longer hair, a deeper voice, and a few inches to their height. It works, because Linklater keeps many threads connected without breaking…and the characters up-front over any plotting. Some obvious clues are placed here and there in the form of music, current movies, and current events just to keep everyone up to speed on the timeline. Some scenes ramble on for an eternity, which may be a message within itself (don’t all kids think adult conversations go on forever?), and the film feels very much its hefty running time. If there is one possible flaw, it is near the end of the film when the kids are asked to clean out their rooms of old toys for a garage sale, and an opportunity to bookend the film with a heap of emotion seems to present itself. The scene never happens on-camera, and it seems like an omission, but maybe that was the too-obvious thing to do.

Acting is superb. Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater, in their very first acting roles, are very convincing and we never doubt their characters for a second. Ethan Hawke is also very good. As the divorced father who only sees the kids every now and then, we see the kids’ growth through his eyes when he pops back into the story (you got so big since last time!). Patricia Arquette is a little rough in the early goings, but improves greatly as the movie (and the years) passes by.  
The finale doesn’t go for an intentional wallop of emotion and instead lets things flow naturally for a very strong, and effective wrap. As long as the film feels, we do feel like we want more…to see where Mason will end up in another 12 years. BOYHOOD is a film not only about growing up, but about life itself…nearly told in real-time as it unfolds before our eyes. BOYHOOD is an example of the true power and magic in cinematic storytelling.


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