Richard Linklater’s 12-year spanning opus Boyhood is such a great film, I actually kind of hesitated to review it. I just feel like there’s been such an uber amount of high praise and acclaim for the picture up until this point, that at the risk of sounding like the broken critical-record, what could I possibly say that’s any different? Boyhood is so good, it’s such an ideal example of a filmmaker operating on the top of his game, the film practically leaves me tongue-tied, feeling that whatever I write, I just can’t do it justice. I mean I can say what an excellent film this is (which I’m obviously doing here) but maybe the far better articulation of how genuinely pitch-perfect Boyhood is, would be the effect derived from simply sitting down and watching the film itself rather than reading this review… just a thought.
So as I write this one, I’m quite aware that by now, the film seems to be dominating the indie box-office, delegating this contagious sense of “water-cooler” dialogue amongst film-circles and non-film fanatics alike. Now even I can admit that Boyhood’s ‘coming-of-age’/evolution yarn of following not just a boy, but a boy and his entire family, through the unforeseen trials and tribulations that life has to offer (to all of us of all ages) is nothing new in the universe of film. The thing of it though is that when a certain story, or genre of film, is mastered so well, when a movie surpasses all the multiple levels we hope any movie ultimately works on, this is when a familiar tale or genre can start to feel undeniably fresh. When a filmmaker can bring something innovative and alternative to the table, this is when a film can come across like it’s just re-invented the wheel, or introduced us primitives to the existence of fire. So when Austin auteur Richard Linklater decides to shoot a film that is essentially about a boy growing up into a young man over an actual 12-year timeline (essentially using the American school-system timeline as its template) you can pretty much bet on the fact that the experience of watching Boyhood suddenly starts to feel like nothing else this summer, or with even more hyperbole here, ever. Now maybe the 12-year plan of actors actually aging on-screen could have amounted to nothing more than just that. An enticing sentence of a pitch conveying the ultimate hook (or gimmick) of the film, while offering up a catchy log-line for potential investors. Nevertheless, when the fictional conceit comes from the heart and mind of a filmmaker of Linklater’s caliber, the 12-year approach transcends any potential shreds of manipulation by working towards the film’s advantage, creating a fully lived-in (and evolving world) that (without being a documentary) comes really close to feeling almost as natural as life itself, structurally and tonally.
While I wouldn’t argue anyone declaring that Boyhood plays like a reflection or a memory in time (I mean I think it does too) I’d still chime in that I believe a film like Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life probably unfolds more as truly resembling someone’s scattered flashback. A stream- of-consciousness trip down memory-lane loosely tied together by the binding filler that is one’s connecting lifetime. Yet contrary to Tree of Life’s fever-dream aesthetic, Boyhood is rooted in conventional movie aestheticism. There’s an indisputable retro vibe to this film as far as movies come across (just in terms of look and the approach to filmmaking itself) nowadays. And in trying to pinpoint Boyhood’s look and feel, I’d have to say that even more-so than anything Linklater has done lately, Boyhood truly reminded me of his ‘coming-of-ager’ classic, Dazed and Confused. I almost think that on some level, Boyhood acts as this weird outwardly companion-piece, when I think of the impact just one single screening of either of these films makes me feel… how they touch me in my mind. There is a very poignant quote from Dr. Seuss that reads: “Sometimes, you will never know the value of something until it becomes memory.” And this bit of truth from the past pretty much taps into what Boyhood encapsulates at its deepened celluloid-core. One of the many ways seeing the actors legitimately age on-screen heightens the film’s truth-like experience, is in how accurate the film feels in resembling the way memories, and what our lives are in the moment of things, how both of these perspectives conjoin to shape and form who we are in our lives, and what we mean to those we’re closest to in them. When Boyhood begins, as viewers, we’re only concerned with the film’s protagonist , Mason, at a certain young age in his life. This is the movie’s focus for us. But then as the film evolves, Mason becomes an adult, and similar to life itself, the idea if ever seeing Mason as a little boy almost becomes absurd. Thus, Boyhood’s earlier scenes of innocence ultimately register amidst this kind of nostalgic flashback quality.
Other than how this film feels and plays though, it’d be wrong of me to not mention a brief blurb about the cast itself. I mean without them, the film wouldn’t work in the first place. I’ll skip over Ethan Hawke, only because if you haven’t been paying attention over the years, Hawke and Linklater go together like bread and butter. The actor is great as expected to be in a Linklater paradise. So instead, I’ll just mention the fact that Ellar Coltrane who plays Boyhood’s protagonist, is absolutely just right for the role. Anyone who knows me, knows I hate how generally coiffed and crafted most movie-kids seem to come across these days. Yet Linklater and Coltrane manage to depict childhood for all its natural heart and tone. Coltrane as a young man then channels this seamless quality to just exist on camera and hones his performance at play ever-so-slightly. I also have to proclaim that Patricia Arquette (whose probably been off my radar since binge-watching True Romance every year or so) is utterly fantastic here. I can’t compliment her contribution to this film enough, and I hope that her supporting-role is remembered come next award-season. As is the case with a good chunk of Linklater’s cannon, the performances don’t just serve to tell the story, in one way of looking at it, one could argue that Linklater’s wrangled performances are his story.
From Slacker to A Scanner Darkly, from SubUrbia all the way down to Before Midnight, writer/director Richard Linklater continues to tell stories that serve as conduits for a filmmaker’s voice to be heard. The result is the case where you don’t have an artist making movies anymore, but making cinema. Now you could in theory wait for the Criterion Blu-Ray release of Boyhood (just announced) but I’d say if you want to experience the film on this grander scale, check it out out in a theaters, and face it head-on. Many times, it’s the seemingly little decisions (in life) that we don’t act on, and subsequently, we miss out something special. Don’t let Boyhood pass you by.