Boyhood tells the story of Mason and his family over the course of twelve years and we get a bit of just about every life experience one would come to expect during those formative years. Filmed piece by piece, year by year, over twelve years,we get to see the cast grow physically as their characters evolve in their lives that almost every person should be able to relate to. Boyhood also serves as a time capsule of sorts for the last decade plus of American life, as Linklater takes you on as nearly as detailed journey through pop culture as he does Mason’s life.
I’ve known about Boyhood for almost as long as it has been filming and while I’ve enjoyed and loved many of Linklater’s films throughout the year’s I have been waiting for this one to finally find its way to the big screen. It was worth the wait. While not quite to the level of Linklater’s Before Trilogy, Boyhood is still a remarkable exercise in filmmaking that would be worth seeing just for that achievement alone. Thankfully, it is also a funny and almost endlessly engaging story of young life itself that speaks to both the youth and American experience of growing up in a modern world.
The jump from year to year can often be told by hair style, outside the major jumps in puberty, but is never distracting or anything too jarring. Each segment feels like a piece of the larger whole, with only one sequence almost threatening to bust out and become a different genre (a domestic horror film would be an apt description of the sequence). But Linklater’s ability to weave in little connecting bits to create a lived in world that feels both big and small are almost always done with subtlety that you would hope for. There isn’t an over arching message to the film’s other than be yourself, but Boyhood is full of Linklater philosophizing and some time sensitive flashes of political activism. In fact, Mason’s journey isn’t anything terribly radical or original, I found it more interesting to watch how the people around him change, come and go over the course of his young life that gets spread all across Texas.
The only weak spots of Boyhood come when Mason enters his early high school years, but this might seem weak because that time in our lives is often full of our worst moments of being a human. We are selfish, full of ourselves and annoying to just about everyone at that age and Ellar Coltrane certainly comes across as such. Coltrane comes across as seeming like he thinks he is pretty hot shit, so he is either a good actor or a little too full of himself. Again, this is the life of a teenager so these emotions are wholly appropriate, but this was the only sequence of the film where I felt only moderately engaged, thou Linklater saves this section by graduation. Coltrane’s older self is his only possible weak point, as pre-pubescent Mason is a joy to watch as he watches the world. Though, I rarely connected emotionally to Mason’s journey, other than feeling old as he glides past pop culture touchstones.
The surrounding cast is a delight as well, with Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke standing out the most as Mason’s parents. Arquette’s mother is very loving, but has to whether an often sad path, which she does admirably. Hawke gets to be the fun guy, but he even grows quite a bit over the course of the film, he’s a joy. The only other regular, and might have the second most screen time, is Lorelei Linklater who plays Mason’s mother Samantha. She is super cute and endearing at her youngest, but the older she gets the more distant she feels from the part. Again, this could be explained as a girl getting older, but she feels detached with her heart less in it. That’s fine, and she still gives the film some of its best laughs.
You may be able to make a couple of dings against Boyhood, but the complexity and nature of the filmmaking more than forgive any minor missteps. A truly unique experience to watch a group of actors grow and evolve in real time. Don’t miss Boyhood, it’s one of Linklater’s finest achievements.
Boyhood is an A-