A Reel Deal Film Review

By Tyler Malone

Summer 2014

Reel Rating: 5 out of 5


If I have any complaint about Richard Linklater”s unprecedented cinematic experiment, Boyhood, it”s with the title. Sure, the film follows Mason Jr. from the age of five until he goes off to college at the age of eighteen, and therefore is most prominently a story of “boyhood,” but the film isn”t just about him, it”s about his family too. It”s about his somewhat precocious older sister, his hardworking mother, his well-meaning but not-always-there father, and the other close friends and family members that enter (and sometimes exit) their lives. Thus, as much as it”s about boyhood, it”s also about girlhood, about childhood in general, and about adulthood too, motherhood and fatherhood. It”s really about life as a whole, about personhood.

The experiment Linklater brings to the screen is one that has been in the works for twelve years. He came up with an idea that he began filming in 2002, where he would follow a boy as he grows into a young adult, but instead of filming the story with different actors portraying the boy and his family at different ages, he thought about filming the same actors for a short period of time every year for the twelve year period. It”s such a simple idea, but there are few things like it in the history of film. It”s an odd sort of timelapse cinema where we see a boy and his family literally grow before our very eyes. But the marvelous thing about Boyhood is that this little cinematic conceit is only a small part of what makes the film feel so authentic and moving.

A lot of the film”s strength comes from the solid performances delivered by the four actors that comprise the core family: Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Patricia Arquette, and Ethan Hawke. Even more spectacular though may be the script and direction from Richard Linklater. Even though, as I say, the movie feels like nothing you”ve seen before, it somehow simultaneously seems like the logical extension of Linklater”s oeuvre. You can certainly connect the dots to the director”s work on The Before Trilogy, another experiment in timelapse cinema when the three films are taken together. Both projects are filmed with an ease that makes them feel warm, as though they pulse with their own heartbeat. But you can also see in Boyhood thematic and stylistic elements that have been a part of Linklater”s work all the way back to his first films It”s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books and Slacker.

Although Boyhood may not be perfect, it”s imperfections are not flaws. Certain scenes veer into the cliche, but cliches exist because they are prevalent in life: we do experience the banalities of peer pressure and addiction, of bullying and abuse. At some points in their lives this family is more interesting and engaging than at others, but isn”t that a fact of life rather than a failure in a film? Every moment isn”t cinematic, isn”t epic, isn”t film-worthy. But then, through a different lens, maybe that”s just what makes these moments film-worthy in the context of this extraordinary experiment? While most coming-of-age stories, whether on screen or in print, focus on the more obviously significant “big” moments in the character”s life, this film isn”t worried with how important a moment is or seems. In a way, it looks at all moments as important–they all mold us in ways seen and unseen, obvious and covert. Linklater”s film sees life as a collection of these moments–some big, some small, some visibly life-altering, some seemingly trivial–that accumulate without necessarily accumulating meaning. So that when Mason Jr., all grown up and about to head off to college, asks his father what it all means, Mason Sr. responds: “We’re all just winging it. The good news is you’re feeling stuff, you know? And you’ve got to hold on to that. You get older, and you don’t feel as much, your skin gets tough.” This is a movie that reminds you to feel, to be young at heart, to not worry about being tough–to live. It reminds us how to be a person–which can, at times, in our fast-paced lives, be all too easy to forget.

Boyhood is a film written and directed by Richard Linklater. It stars Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, and Lorelei Linklater. The life of a young man, Mason, from age 5 to age 18.


IMDb: Boyhood

Written by Tyler Malone

Photography Courtesy of IFC Films

Design by Francesca Rimi


Film Still from Boyhood, Photography Courtesy of IFC Films

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