Director: Richard Linklater
MPAA Rating: R
[This is a repost of our review from Sundance 2014. Boyhood is available in theaters and VOD Friday.]
Shot for a span of over twelve years, Richard Linklater’s latest, Boyhood, is one of the most ambitious and touching films I’ve seen in some time. This nearly three-hour journey displays an interesting portrait of an American family, and although the narrative is deceptively simple, this is a film like no other.
Ellar Coltrane plays Mason, an introverted first grader, more interested in gazing out the classroom window and contemplating life than doing math problems. Although the central focus is on Mason’s life, his family members are along for the ride and play an obviously large role in his story. His mother is played by the wonderful Patricia Arquette, his older sister, Samantha, is played by Lorelei Linklater, and his father is played by Ethan Hawke.
At its core, Boyhood is a simple familial drama. We see the ups and downs of Mason’s life as he grows from a precocious child into an intelligent man. There’s a fair amount of comedic dialogue, which helps liven things up, but there are some very dramatic moments as well. The film progresses at an even keel throughout, which should be considered a feat unto itself considering the enormous amount of footage Linklater must have had.
Although the film is fine on its own, the fact that Linklater used the same actors over the twelve years of shooting is something to witness. Because the viewer is acutely aware that the passage of time is real, it somehow creates a stronger connection to the characters. They’re not playing some age they aren’t in real life, they don’t have old person makeup on, and the director didn’t switch out the actor to make him older. The elimination of all these theatrical elements makes everything feel more real and natural. It’s fascinating to see how the actors have changed over time, not just their appearance. As they got older their interests changed, their personalities showed influence and maturity, and the way in which this was presented on screen felt organic and seamless.
The entire film has a surprisingly consistent tone and visual style, which is again impressive. The entire film was shot on 35mm and feels like it was all done in one go, like any other movie. When we jump forward to the next year, there is no title card, or announcement, we simply rely on visual cues and music to inform us of the shift. This keeps things moving and provides a much more entertaining experience. It’s fun to see what was happening in pop culture and technology during each year, but this also helps the viewer pinpoint where we are in the family timeline.
It’s tough to outright exclaim a movie is a masterpiece from only one viewing, but this is certainly an impressive experiment that simply needs to be seen. It’s a film that’s not very special on plot alone, but in this case, the experiment is compelling enough to overshadow any shortcomings. Boyhood is an amazing achievement in filmmaking, and Linklater should be applauded for bringing us something that we’ve never witnessed before or probably will never again.