Boyhood Review

Posted: August 12, 2014 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

6a00d83451d77869e201a3fd3de7ad970bWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Richard Linklater has long been one of the great, under appreciated American filmmakers. Since the early 90s, the man has made a string of films catered for adults which tap into very relatable human drama. He’s done more commercial fare too, such as The Bad News Bears and School of Rock, but most of his career has been defined by movies about intimate human relationships like Dazed and Confused, and especially his Before trilogy. His newest film, Boyhood, is in many ways the cullmination of this type of storytelling. Filmed over twelve years and chronicling the fictional story of a boy growing from age 7 to 19, Boyhood is the film Linklater is worked towards throughout his career.

Boyhood opens in 2002, with the image of a seven year old boy looking up at the clouds. That boy is named Mason (Ellar Coltrane), and the film will proceed to follow him as he grows up for the next twelve years. At the start of the film, he is living with his mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). Another important family member is Mason and Samantha’s father (Ethan Hawke), who maintains a relationship with his kids. As we move through time, we see the family move from place to place, coming in contact with many different people how affect their lives in interesting ways.

It’s pretty much impossible to talk about this film without discussing the extraordinary production it went through. Making a movie over the period of twelve years is an incredibly daunting task, and I applaud Linklater for having the vision to bring this project to life. It’s also something of a miracle that the production was as successful as it was when you consider how many things could have gone wrong. Key players may have died, Ellar Coltrane could have grown into a terrible actor, or the people involved may simply have lost their passion for the project. The unique circumstances of the production also lead to some interesting questions, such as how much of the film was written from the beginning, if Linklater had the broad story beats and ending planned out, and how much real life experience from Linklater and Coltrane was worked into the film as it went along.

Interesting as many of these questions are, they ultimately take a back seat to the work itself, which is indeed quite the accomplishment. It’s quite something to watch these characters literally grow right before your eyes. Mason starts off the film as a typical young boy, who’s interests mostly lie in videogames, tv and movies, and playing outside with his friends. As the film goes on though, Mason starts to really forge his own identity and discover who he is, going through an angsty teen phase before becoming a thoughtful and philosophical young man. His journey may not truly be over (he is only nineteen after all), but the arc does come to a conclusion of sorts, and it’s very rewarding to see this little kid grow and find himself. Ellar Coltrane is very strong in the lead role. The film is certainly catered around Coltrane’s strengths and I’m curious to what he might be like in other roles, but there’s no denying he is quite captivating in Boyhood.

Much as the focus of the film is on watching young Mason grow, the supporting characters are really just as important. Patricia Arquette is excellent as Mason’s struggling mother trying to do the right thing for her family. She’s a flawed character who does make mistakes, but her intentions are always for her family and it’s satisfying to see her grow into an intellectual and seasoned professional. Arquette is also able to deliver some strong emotional beats and in all honesty a film probably could have been made entirely from her perspective. Long-time Linklater collaborator Ethan Hawke is also very good as Mason’s father. Hawke isn’t really stretching himself here as his character is very similar to the one from the Before series, but his presence is certainly a welcome one as he brings a warmth to the role and the character’s road from man-child slacker to responsible family man is also fun to see. Linklater’s daughter Lorelei also has an important role as Mason’s older sister and she too grows quite a bit. All of the characters do and that’s a big part of why the film is so great. The rest of the cast is made up of unknown faces who all do solid work, and their anonymity lends to the authenticity Linklater is going for.

One of Linklater’s greatest strengths has always been his ability to capture reality on film, and it’s a skill he puts to good use here. Pretty much everything here, from Mason playing in the fields to intimate conversations with loved ones, feels extremely well. Even elements which might seem clichéd on paper, such as an alcoholic step-father, do in fact feel very authentic. It also helps that Linklater is not concerned with trying to tell a large plot. The feel is instead very episodic, and many of the various moments are for their own sake, which is itself one of the major themes of the film. In spite of the episodic approach, the movie still has a very natural flow. The film often jumps a head in time, but these cuts are quite seamless and fit with the rest of the film perfectly. Boyhood is essentially a collection of twelve short films, and it’s a testament to the editing that it all comes together as a singular entity. Linklater also uses the soundtrack as an effective time marker, in addition to underscoring some poignant moments.

Coming of age films are usually very relatable in nature, but Boyhood took on a new level of that for me. I’m only five days older than Ellar Coltrane and as such, I saw a lot of my own experiences through Mason’s story. I remember watching “Dragon Ball Z” and reading “Harry Potter” as a kid, I remember playing “Halo” with my friends, and I remember playing those awkward “educational” videogames on the school computers. Of course, a lot of the more general, timeless things are here too, such as parental discussions, romances and high school heartbreaks, and early friendships which can dissipate so suddenly. I related to these things too, but it was especially surreal to see so much of the specifics of my childhood on the screen. That’s not to suggest Mason is designed as some every-kid, he isn’t and there is plenty we don’t have in common, but there’s also some interesting overlap. Boyhood also works as a fascinating time capsule of the 2000s. Events like the Iraq war and Obama’s presidency are represented and it’s interesting to see them captured.

For all it’s strengths, Boyhood still has some faults. The script does veer dangerously close to cliché at points, there are some contrivances I could have done without, and despite a nearly three hour runtime, some events are skimmed over which could have used more attention. Still, I truly do believe that this is a film that everyone should see. This is a project of the utmost ambition, and yet Linklater is still able to touch at something very real, intimate, and personal. It’s a complete achievement; the whole time you watch it, you’re very aware that what you’re watching is special, which is a rare thing.


  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Dan. It’s a long movie, but it moves by so quickly that it hardly matters that it’s nearly three hours.

  2. ianthecool says:

    Five days older, cool. I can see why this would have a personal connection with you.

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