SXSW 2014: Boyhood
Review by Daniel Rester
Boyhood may just be Richard Linklater’s masterpiece. It feels like something he has been working toward his whole career, which is ironic since it actually did take twelve years to make the film. He and his cast and crew shot for 39 days spread across the years, crafting a portion of the story each year. The movie manages to capture the spirit of many of Linklater’s past works and expand on it. It is a truly amazing piece of work.
The story revolves around a boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane). It tracks his life as he grows up in various parts of Texas. His parents, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) and Olivia (Patricia Arquette), and his sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, who is Richard’s daughter), come to play major roles in his life.
No other film has been made that is quite like Boyhood, though one could draw some comparisons to the Up documentary series and Linklater’s own Before trilogy. Actually getting to witness the character of Mason and actor Coltrane grow up on the screen is remarkable. We see him from age 5 to 18 in the film, witnessing all of the challenges, disappointments, and rewards that life throws his way. Mixing in the family and other varied characters makes the film relatable for everyone.
Linklater had the initial story for the film finished back in the early 2000s, but he adapted the film a bit as new things presented themselves in real life. He was able to blend together pop culture and political moments that feel totally natural to the characters’ lives. Such things as George Bush and Iraq, Halo 2, and Harry Potter make their way into the story, as do songs that fit perfectly with each period in the story; one particular reference to the Star Wars films is especially rewarding and hilarious.
But it’s the personal moments in Mason’s life that resonate the most, with the dialogue and relationship-building having an authentic feeling all the way through. Linklater captures both the banality and joyfulness of life in various conversations, with people talking about everything from magic and elves to doing chores to pornography. He manages to put honesty to those awkward conversations we all have with our parents about sex, and he presents both the absurdity and truthfulness that can come with advice about a variety of things from parents, bosses, and teachers. All of the dialogue between the teenagers is rendered real as well, especially with the older teens reflecting on such things as sex, governments, college, and technology.
The film is expertly shot and edited as well, with Linklater a terrific guide to his team. Cinematographers Lee Daniel and Shane F. Kelly and Editor Sandra Adair – all of whom have worked with Linklater before — manage to capture the environments and situations in a fluid manner. Linklater and his team keep a consistent tone even when juggling the many aspects of life. They also provide a smooth pace and flow from year to year, making this long film never boring. And Daniel and Kelly provide a few beautiful shots along the way (including a long tracking shot down an alleyway), though nothing is ever flashy. The production design/set decoration and costumes are also noteworthy, as everything in each year matches the period well. This is simply grade-A filmmaking with a large scope.
Where Linklater shines even further is in his direction of the actors. He is able to make every actor ring true with their performance. Both Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater are remarkable, undoubtedly capturing the spirit of modern youth in their performances. Hawke is great too, giving one of his best performances as the kids’ somewhat irresponsible but loving father; he provides a lot of the laughs as well. Arquette is just as good as Olivia, delivering on the toughness and beauty of motherhood. We also see many other supporting actors pop up throughout the film in various years, with Zoe Graham standing out a little in a small but key role as a teenage girlfriend.
Many films have gotten things correctly when it comes to my generation of people (with myself being only a few years older than Coltrane), but no other film has quite gotten it as right as Boyhood has. We only get fragments of Mason’s life, but none of it ever feels episodic; instead we just get to witness the many different aspects of it (though I will admit I wanted a couple more moments of Mason alone, but that is just a nitpick). The film is funny, emotional, and genuine, and it is one that will stand the test of time.
This is the first film I have awarded an A+ upon just one viewing since the year 2010. It deserves it. Thank you, Mr. Linklater.
Score: 4 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: A+)
Runtime: 2 hours and 43 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: N/A.
WeLiveFilm Press Photos of Boyhood:
The front of the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas; photo by Daniel Rester