Boyhood, which started filming in 2002 and continued off and on for twelve years, is the greatest coming-of-age story ever put to film. Had the film not succeeded, it still would have gone down as a worthy experiment. Since it does work so well, it will go down as a landmark cinematic achievement. Writer/director Richard Linklater saw the film through, even giving permission to Ethan Hawke to finish it if his death took place before photography completed.
Boyhood is about the small moments in life that accumulate over time that mold and shape each person’s life. Minus a traditional narrative, Linklater avoids the usual tropes of the genre (mostly sexual milestones) and instead focuses on the tiny figments such as the haircut every boy is inevitably embarrassed by. The film follows Mason (Coltrane), who’s five years old when the film begins, all the way up to his college sendoff at age eighteen. The son of divorced, yet still friendly parents (Arquette and Hawke), Mason also has a sister, Samantha (Linklater’s own daughter, Lorelei), whom he has a very standard brother/sister love/hate relationship with. Rather than work in a predictable subplot about whether Mom and Dad will get back together, the story focuses on Mom’s horrible luck with men (she winds up with a slew of alcoholics), constant relocation, and the strain it puts on the family as she attempts to make ends meet.
Linklater plays all of this in an understated way, making it feel very realistic in its slice-of-life approach. To see each character age and mature naturally over the course of the film is really special. In the context of the story, Mason becomes the young man one might expect: a free spirit, often questioning authority and mainstream thinking. His relationship with both parents is good and he’s ready for the next step in life. That Boyhood remains interesting and insightful without anything “big” happening throughout its 165 minute runtime is the movie’s true magic trick. Relatable moments, no matter how mundane, always keep audience attention. Boyhood is almost exclusively about relatable moments.
Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke both turn in career-best work as Mom and Dad. Arquette is the standout, portraying Mom as someone who cares deeply for her children but struggles to find an adequate father figure and with her own higher education dreams. A scene late in the movie in which she contemplates what life will be like after Mason leaves for college is heartbreaking and flawlessly acted. Hawke, as the cool Dad, gets the funnier material, particularly a scene where he embarrasses Samantha with a birds and bees talk. Ellar Coltrane, in the lead role, is also a revelation. A fantastic child actor, Coltrane transforms to a dry-humored, brutally honest young man seamlessly and convincingly.
It is so incredibly rare to view a true original. What started off as a loose, noble idea by Linklater has evolved into an unforgettable look at middle class American life. Loaded with phenomenal performances, a sharp eye for life’s important moments, and an unmatched feel for authenticity, Boyhood is one of the most audacious films ever made and one of 2014’s finest.
Studio: IFC Films
Length: 165 Minutes
Rating: R for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use.
Theatrical Release: July 11, 2014 (Limited)
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater
Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater, Elijah Smith