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There are two means of examining writer/director Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making coming-of-age drama Boyhood. One is to marvel at the movie’s semi-seamless progression in time, as characters jump through year-to-year without only the occasional sledgehammer-of-a-reminder of what year is currently lived. The other would be to simply appraise the movie’s quality, dissecting—as one normally would—the film’s quality and merits in its telling of this family’s progression throughout the past two decades.
While both serve their merits, neither truly delves into what makes Linklater’s newest movie so quietly dispelling. For what makes this coming-of-age movie, beyond its “gimmick” or story, so mesmerizing is just how thoughtful it is in its mediation on suburban existence. The filmmakers use the unprecedented filmmaking technique, not to prove that it was able to be accomplish, but to usefully transport a film where the character feel older and wiser. Because they are older and wiser, and carry new found feelings and heartbreaks and emotions as they travel through life like their characters. That is what makes Boyhood so special.
In dissecting the 12-year lifespan of a middle-class family vesseled through the life of a 5-to-18 year old Mason (Ellar Coltrane), as his single mom (Patricia Arquette), wild-at-heart dad (Ethan Hawke) and typical pre-teen sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, Richard’s real-life daughter), Linklater’s movie showcases how these characters mature and progress through their sometimes troubled lives on a year-to-year basis through well-realized and thoughtfully subdued moments.
But what makes this movie sing is just how patient it truly is. Where most of these movies would so, so often go for bombastic melodrama, Linklater is always making sure that every check is in balance. He makes a movie that feels honest—even when its actual narrative is a bit contrived—and therefore speak to anyone who grew up in a post-9/11 America where technology pops up like spring flowers and one’s own personality is just beginning to transcend past one’s more awkward misunderstandings.
But beyond this, there are so many universal truths here that speak beyond Linklater’s typical sensibilities and his time period. What makes his movie so impacting is not so much what is told, but what is seen and felt. There are more than a couple times where the movie decides to result to the narrative constrictions that have plagued other growing-up movies before this. Without getting too detailed about them, themes about broken households, adjusting to relationship problems and realizing one’s full potential are all brought out into Boyhood’s enlarged 165-minute running time.
Oddly enough, as an actor, Coltrane is a performer that feels more comfortable and nuanced as a child than he does as a young adult. In his formative years, he is able to get into the deep-rooted, grippingly and philosophically sound character. But, as the movie grows more and more towards the border of pretension, so too does his performance feel a little too caught up in the moment or stressed on having to say something, man. Thankfully, Linklater is self-aware enough as a filmmaker to not let his young performer get too out of hand. And while some of his dialogue doesn’t quite click to someone with a younger ear, or too
The stand out performances here are primarily from the dedicated acting of Hawke and Arquette. While Arquette certainly gives the more thoughtful and passive performance of the two, Hawke’s naturally grounded performance—while showy-er—resonates more as the movie progresses. His arc feels better suited of the two, while remaining more emotionally in-balance as the movie comes to its conclusion. One particular moment between his character and Mason is among the most cathartically honest moments in Boyhood’s long-stated journey.
What really deserves recognition here is the look of the movie. Which, while not eye-popping gorgeous by any means, is so shockingly consistent that it never feels visually jarring whenever it switches places and time. Linklater and cinematographers Lee Daniel and Shane F Kelly decided to shoot most—if not all—of this movie on film, and that was likely the wisest choice they could make. But, more so than this, the tone of the movie, and its year-expanding timeline, is also impressively consistent. There are no withstanding plot holes or forgotten subtexts, and the movie’s flows just as well—if not even better than—most movies shot at one period of time.
Boyhood is a long-winded movie; one that sometimes feels its time lapses and all too often thinks that it has reminds its audience just where it stands. But Linklater’s movie is so sensitively produced and yet, much like life itself, so aggressively ongoing that it feels its emotions and time, rather than feels overproduced and contrived. That is why, even when all so many critics go over the moon here, it still deserves to be remembered.