Boyhood is an epic that concerns itself with a story on the human level. It is a masterful achievement in filmmaking.
Masterpiece is often a word that is overly used when reviewing film. A masterpiece should be nearly perfect, adroitly crafted, and a truly remarkable piece of art. That being said, Boyhood is a true masterpiece orchestrated by Richard Linklater. Filmed over a twelve year time period using the same actors, Boyhood follows a family as they live their lives. It’s really something we take for granted in film. Sometimes a simple premise such as life can turn into a phenomenal story. Throughout the twelve-year production period, the writers and actor adjusted the screenplay to create an honest portrayal and deep analysis of the human condition and also created one of the most exciting pieces of cinema I have ever seen.
Although the film follows 4 members of this family (that was never named throughout the film), the entire story is told from the perspective of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), who begins the film at the age of 6 and is followed until he is 18. It’s nearly impossible to talk about the narrative as a whole. It’s an epic. However, the clearest way to analyze the film is as an education of Mason and his path to adulthood.
I have to give Coltrane a huge shoutout here. Although his performance didn’t blow me away, he had a nearly impossible job. He had to grow up with a character, and he did so with grace. Patricia Arquette did wonderful work as well, however Ethan Hawke turned in the best performance of his career as Mason’s father, who had a fair amount of growing up to do as well.
What Linklater is able to capture is remarkable. He manages to beg the questions that every kid asks when growing about the universe, the confusion over divorce, the development of sex and love. Growing up is a hard thing to do and this film tells the true story of it. Linklater has a way with life. He understands it. Between this and the Before Midnight series, I think he has a better grasp on it than most of us could ever dream.
The experimentation with time is something entirely different to behold. By using cultural references it felt like I was reliving my childhood. It probably helped that Mason and I lived around the same time frame, although he’s 18 in 2014 and I’m 20, but it was exciting to hear references to Brittany Spears and Vampire Weekend, Harry Potter and High School Musical, Bush and Obama. Linklater so carefully clued us into what time period we were in, and the familiarity was comforting in a sense. It made time seem so important. It reminded us that the world moves at a break neck pace.
The entire film appeared like an entire life in itself. Characters returned and I would get chills to be reminded of their existence. The fact that they were the same actors portraying them made the act even more notable. Watching characters come and go revealed a harsh reality of life. People exit our lives and may never reenter it. Linklater so honestly captured this and countless other realities that are hard to face.
Not to be overzealous, but Boyhood was one of the best films produced in the last decade or so. It’s so epic in scope, but extraordinarily intimate in its storytelling. I watched twelve years of time pass on screen. I experienced those twelve years in less than 3 hours, but the emotional impact was just as great. This film is an instant classic that will forever serve as a reminder of the freedom of cinema and the ingenuity of Richard Linklater.