The purpose of my reviewing a movie on this site is to give advice on whether or not I think my readers should go see it. In this case though, I don’t think that really applies. Whether or not this movie is good doesn’t matter. Of course you should see this movie, regardless of whether or not it’s good or you’ll like it, because you will never again see a movie anything like it. The fact that it is good, so very, very good, just makes it easier for me to tell you that.
The plot, for what it’s worth, is concerned with Mason (Ellar Coltrane) a boy growing up in Texas with his mother (Patricia Arquette) and sister (Lorelei Linklater) with occasional visits from his father (Ethan Hawke). The film follows him from his childhood, in 2002, through middle school and high school. It chronicles his early years, several step fathers, his time in high school, his first girlfriend, his growing love of photography. In tells, essentially, the story of his childhood, up until he leaves for college.
You might have noticed, in that description, what makes this movie unique. Despite the movie’s time frame covering from 2002 to 2013, from when the lead character is 9 to when he is 18, I have never mentioned another actor playing him. You could fake an adult aging over that time with makeup (although, as Bicentennial Man has taught us, you probably shouldn’t) but a kid needs to grow up. Well that’s the… I don’t want to say gimmick… central aspect of the film. The film was actually shot, in bits and pieces, over the course of those 9 years. That right there would be an incredible achievement for a single film, and would probably make the movie worth watching right there.
There are a lot of elements at play in the movie but I think the most fascinating is how it uses it’s incredibly tight focus to help us understand what Mason is feeling and what each stage of development is like. The film almost never shifts out of Mason’s point of view, which gives us a real understanding of how he feels. When he’s younger, this point of view reminds us how adults can talk around and above children, without regard or interest in what they think or feel. As it progresses, we get to see him struggling with his identity and his desires for his future, as well as watching his family and friends grow and change around him.
The most interesting aspect of the plot to me might be it’s willingness to leave things completely unresolved. Early in the film, when Mason and his mother and sister flee an abusive step father, both Mason and his sister express concern about the fate of the step father’s two children from a previous marriage. Neither of them are ever seen again. In a less confident or well put together film, that might be a flaw, but it ends up reinforcing the overall tone of the film: life doesn’t have easy 3 act structures and nothing ever really ends or completely resolves itself. As such the ending might irritate some people, but I thought it was perfect.
Being a movie primarily concerned with character and story, this movie would never work without an excellent script and some good directing. Fortunately Boyhood has Richard Linklater (late of Dazed and Confused, Before Sunset, and the unspeakably awesome A Scanner Darkly). He’s a well seasoned director who’s been working for over 20 years and he handles it like the pro he is. The screenplay is incredibly well written, with noticeable movement and growth from even the most minor characters. The direction is pretty gorgeous, but I have to admit that no one scene stood out to me, direction wise. Maybe I’m just expecting too much from him though, the direction is great, just…not on the same level as the script.
The acting is similarly brilliant. Ethan Hawke is the instant standout from the adult actors (reminding us that all he has to do is a Richard Linklater movie every so often and we’ll forgive every other s****y movie he does), as he has the most arc, but the least screentime of the adults. Patricia Arquette is damn excellent too, with a lot of bigger acting moments and hard scenes (some of you might remember her from Ed Wood as Kathy). But Ellar Coltrane is doing most of the heavy lifting. He has to literally grow up before our very eyes, which has to be tough for any kid. But he does excellently, even while some of it might be his naturally growing up. I for one will be VERY excited to see what he does next.
That Boyhood is worth seeing was already a forgone conclusion. A movie this unique would demand to be seen, even if it was a disaster. Thankfully for all of us, Boyhood is instead something approaching a masterpiece, and easily one of the best films of the year. I am more than a little ashamed that it took me so long to watch this movie and you need to go see it as soon as possible.
Elessar is a 24 year old Alaskan born cinephile and this movie was genetically engineered to make him feel OLD.
– brilliant script
– incredibly unique way of shooting
– great acting
– solid direction
– might go on a little long
– ending might leave some people unsatisfied