If they made more movies like Richard Linklater’s Boyhood I would have to change the name of this website to Pan and Praise. This is an experimental and remarkably moving picture that chronicles the lives of its main character, Mason Evans Jr. played by Ellar Coltrane, from ages 5 to 18. We literally watch this boy grow up into a young man during the 165 minute running time. We also see other actors age on screen over a span of twelve years including Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette. There is no need for the use of prosthetics or CGI enhancements.
This movie plays like a series of memories from a person looking back at their childhood and the images and moments that they recall best that shaped their character. The narrative is not plot based at all but follows young Mason from his earliest memories up until he leaves the nest and is off living miles away on his own in college. It is not overly pretentious like a Terrence Malick film; in fact it is not pretentious at all and plays fairly straightforward giving the audience everything they need to know during each scene.
Acclaim is especially deserved for the actors in Boyhood without whom this film would have resulted in never seeing the light of day. Ellar Coltrane is the heart of the film as Mason and is involved in every scene in the picture. He anchors the film as no other actor has ever had to before since there has never been anything like Boyhood. The fact that it is a resounding success has as much to do with his performance as it does the writing and direction of Richard Linklater.
The director’s daughter, Lorelei Linklater plays Sam, Mason’s older sister and she does an equally exceptional job with less screen time. We watch her grow up from a cute little girl, to an awkward teenager, to a mature and pretty young woman. The stressful moments she and her brother went through are carried on her face. Their sibling relationship felt real. Also, Judd Apatow take note, this is how you should use your daughters in a movie you direct. They should carry the narrative forward, not stop the film dead so we can all look and say “aw isn’t she so cute.”
Ethan Hawke does a great job as the boy’s liberal father who starts out as an unemployed struggling musician and eventually grows up himself which was illustrated in one of the best scenes in the movie, a conversation between him and his son in a minivan as they discussed the fate of his Pontiac GTO.
The bravest performance in the film was Patricia Arquette as Mason and Sam’s struggling mother. She was outstanding and heartbreaking as she tried so hard to provide the best for her children. We really see her age over the years in her face and in her body in ways that few other Hollywood actresses would be willing to do. The audience sympathizes with her almost as much as her son. If she had a few more scenes this film easily could have been called Parenthood if that title was not already taken.
Boyhood touches on almost every emotion the same way that growing up involves every human emotion. There are moments of humor, sadness, happiness, tranquility, anxiety, exhilaration, victory, loss and fear. The final actor that deserves an honorable mention to is Marco Perella as an abusive alcoholic husband of Mason’s mother (Arquette). He has one several scenes and one in particular at a dinner table that invoked genuine fear that most horror movies never touch upon.
If there is a flaw with Boyhood it would be its length. Some scenes were superfluous and could have been cut even though the film was seamlessly edited and flowed very naturally. I especially liked the director’s decision to not give any dates or time cards at the bottom of the screen when clearly time has passed from one scene to the next. Instead Mr. Linklater treated his audience with enough respect to give them clues to figure out the year that the scene was taking place with clues like the elections between Bush/Kerry in 2004, McCain/Obama in 2008, blockbuster movies and pop culture references with the The Dark Knight and the soundtrack with songs popular from certain years in the past decade.
Boyhood is a rare achievement in cinema and should be cherished for years to come. Never before has a non-documentary fiction film taken over twelve years to make and documented the changes of adolescence so significantly. There has never been a film like it but I hope more directors are as bold to take on more unique and challenging film experiments and I hope they have the good fortune Richard Linklater had with his actors willing to take time out of their schedule each year to help realize it’s filmmakers vision.