by: S. Scott Stanikmas
As much of a movie nerd as I profess to be I truly haven’t seen nearly as much as I should have. Case in point- Boyhood is only my second Richard Linklater movie, my first being School of Rock. And after seeing Boyhood I’m kicking myself in the ass for not jumping on Linklater’s body of work sooner. I’ve heard critics and non-critics alike fawning over this movie like the second coming of Jesus on film, and while not absolutely perfect, it comes pretty damn close.
What Richard Linklater did with Boyhood was utterly phenomenal. Over the course of the last twelve or so years Linklater would film for a few weeks every year and give us a small glimpse into the life of Mason, an average kid leading an average life. There is, however, nothing average about this film. So much had to work together just right to make this film the cinematic achievement that it is. Sure there were a few cons, but the pros far outweigh them in the long run.
Let’s get the biggest negative out of the way first. Patricia Arquette- what the hell. I can’t quite put my finger on why but I felt as though she were the weakest link of this movie. She seems on the surface like every other struggling mom we see on TV and film. She’s firm and she yells but loves her kids unconditionally. She has a string of loser ex-husbands. She picks herself up from having next to nothing to give her kids a better life. She does have a moment towards the end of the film with her son where she breaks down, feeling that she’s hit all of life’s supposed milestones and that her life is close to being over and done with. Unfortunately, because of everything that led up to that point, the audience I saw it with burst out laughing as if she were some sad clown whose tears were meant to bring us mirth and merriment. Maybe it was just the crowd I saw it with but the moment just didn’t hit the way that I would’ve liked.
Where this film truly shines is any time Ethan Hawke is on screen. Dear lord, he makes it seem so effortless. Every time he showed up to interact with his kids he just seemed so natural and easygoing. He was the cool dad who wanted to be part of your life, not just the guy who picked you up and watched TV with you for the whole weekend until it was time to drop you off. He actually wanted a relationship with his children. He gets mad when they give him the stock kid answers to “How was your week?” because he really wants to know how their week was. He doesn’t want to embarrass his daughter by speaking to her about the importance of abstaining from sex or at least using protection, he just wants her to be well informed. Ethan Hawke seemed so at ease with his role. He gets two thumbs way up from me.
Lorelei Linklater is an absolute joy to watch in this movie. We see her grow up just as much as her younger brother and it is truly magical to see her go from annoying older sister to awkward adolescent to apathetic teenager. I remember hearing stories about how she was tired of doing the movie about halfway through filming and asked to have her character killed off. Thankfully her dad made her stick with it, citing unnecessary drama being added to the narrative that may take away from the story as a whole. I’m glad she stayed on as the movie has a much fuller feel with her in it.
Wow. How did I get so deep into my review without yet mentioning the titular boy of Boyhood? My girlfriend asked me before the film started about the young actor who played Mason, wondering what would have happened had he turned out to be not such a great actor in his teenage years. Richard Linklater took a gamble with that and it pays off in spades. Ellar Coltrane as Mason was superb. He had such a tough job, what with this movie revolving around his growth from a boy to a young adult, but he handled it with grace. He gave a nuanced performance that I feel was a little stilted by his wise-beyond-his-years attitude in his later teen years. He did have some memorable moments though, showing how he could be a snotty little wiseass that you just wanted to crack upside the head to being a disappointed little kid in a teenagers’ body (his 15th birthday). This young man has quite the range.
I thoroughly enjoyed how the movie progressed from start to finish. It never showed you what age or year we were watching Mason at. We got subtle hints through the progression of technology or pop culture references, but it’s not thrown in our faces every time the story progresses forward. Linklater would rather we enjoy what we’re seeing without needing to put a time frame on it. The story just moves forward with people entering and leaving Mason’s life at will, some to be seen later and some to be left as unanswered questions, much like real life.
It’s interesting to note that the movie doesn’t bog itself down with needing to show all of the so called important parts of Mason’s maturing into adulthood. We don’t see every birthday or major holiday. We don’t see him learn how to drive or go on his first date. But somehow the mundane everyday things, like walking home from school with a classmate and talking about friends or working a regular shift at his crappy after school job, have a surreal quality in this movie that makes you think every little moment is important in its own way.
The pacing was on point as well. Clocking in at around two hours and forty five minutes, Boyhood hardly ever lagged or felt like a chore to sit through. There were some moments that felt a little slow, but hose were few and far between. I could have easily watched another hour or so from Mason’s life and still wanted to see more. This is a true cinematic gem. I cannot recommend Boyhood highly enough.