"I was never concerned about the state of your soul."
Writer/director Richard Linklater (Dazed & Confused) set out to do something truly unique back in 2002. He set out to make a film about one boy's journey through his adolescence, but do it in real time. With a team of dedicated actors, Linklater shot the film Boyhood over a period of 39 days spread out over 12 years. Essentially, what Linklater was able to achieve was nothing short of a miracle, and this film, by all rights, shouldn't even exist. Yet it does, and it is every bit the miraculous piece of filmmaking Linklater likely set out to create. Boyhood is truly as close to perfection as a film can get, and will likely stand the test of time as one of the towering achievements of motion pictures. Read on to find out why...
Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is your typical six-year old boy. He's struggling at school in the way most six-year old boys struggle at school, he's got an older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) that's always giving him a hard time, and he's got a mom (Patricia Arquette) who is adjusting to life as a single parent since his dad Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), ran off to Alaska to find himself. Faced with few options, his mother decides to uproot the family and move to Houston to be closer to her mother. She begins taking classes at a community college, and before long falls for her professor Bill (Marco Perella), and joins her family with his.
Over the next 12 years, Mason faces adversity in the form of a seemingly never-ending string of new towns and new friends, as well as new step-fathers, all while just growing up and trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life. With their dad finally back in the picture, albeit as a once in a while dad, Mason and Sam continue to grow and discover themselves, all while attempting to navigate the typical trials and tribulations of human life.
The most miraculous thing about Boyhood, beyond its mere existence, is how the film is simultaneously about nothing and everything. The film is heavy on incident, to be sure, but never at the expense of just letting a moment play out to its natural conclusion. At 166 minutes, it should be a labored, bloated behemoth, but it's the next evolution in the kinds of films Linklater has always made, commonly referred to as "hang-out movies." I don't mean this as an insult in any way, shape, or form, but Boyhood is the ultimate hang-out movie because you never tire of hanging out with these characters. Mason's story is my story, is your story, is everyone's story. Anyone who's ever been a child in America can relate to this film, and I imagine a number of universal truths will extend far beyond our country's borders.
The truly remarkable thing about Boyhood is that it's a never-ending string of scenes that you're bound to relate to. Linklater managed to cram a whole lot of living into this film, from baseball games to midnight book releases, from camping trips to boring church services with family, this film seems to cover every possible activity you can think of without ever feeling belabored or required to hit certain beats. The film felt to me like a much more accessible version of Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life in that it so perfectly captures the human experience without ever consciously trying to do so. A film filled with moments is much more likely to resonate than one filled with plot twists and turns and other busy frivolities. You'll walk away from this film ruminating on the things that hit the closest to home for you personally, and it will perfectly speak to everyone in different ways.
Arquette and Hawke are both actors I've never really been over the moon for, but they both do career best work here. Arquette fills her character with the right amount of empathy without ever pushing her too far into sainthood or victim mode. It's an incredibly nuanced performance, definitely the best she's done in a very long time. Hawke is similarly great, reveling in playing the fun, hip single dad that gets to show up and have fun with the kids, but always struggling to connect with them in any meaningful way. Hawke very obviously brings a lot of his own personal and emotional baggage with him to the screen, and it pays off beautifully. Lorelei Linklater is also terrific, effortlessly being your average American girl without ever consciously trying to act like one.
It's Coltrane who turns out to be the greatest discovery of all, however. Linklater never could have known when he cast him as a five-year old, what he would grow into, but the director's always had a knack for finding talented young people, and Coltrane is likely his greatest discovery. Coltrane has all that same effortlessness that Lorelei Linklater does, but he also manages, particularly in the second half, to carry the film so adeptly, it's as if he's doing what he was born to do. It's an incredible performance, the kind that can only come from the kind of process used here, and I actively look forward to whatever he does in the future.
As for Linklater, there's no doubt that this is his masterpiece. The only way to score big is to shoot big, and Linklater banked a lot of hopes on this film, and manages to cash them all in by the end. He's never been the flashiest director, and that serves him so well here because he doesn't seek to feed any messages to the audience. He'd much rather let moments happen and allow the audience to come to them. The sheer dedication to the film is what makes his achievement so incredible. That he was able to see even a year into the future, let alone twelve, shows that his vision extended far beyond what the average director would have undertaken.
Perhaps the greatest thing about Boyhood is that none of the things that I've just spent the last few paragraphs praising is ever present in your mind while you're watching the film. The characters and their journey manage to absorb you so completely that it's not until after it's all over that you sit back and just marvel at how Linklater and his team were able to make it so seamless. Boyhood is nothing short of one of the finest American films of this decade, and will easily stand the test of time and work its way onto best of lists that critics will write a hundred years from now. This is what great filmmaking is all about, and the thing that sets this film apart from all the other "great" films of American cinema is how slowly and stealthily it sneaks up on you. Much like life, it's over before you feel it's even begun.
GO Rating: 5/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]