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Movie review: 'Boyhood'

Boyhood

Rating:
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So much could have gone wrong in the making of “Boyhood”. Writer and director Richard Linklater filmed the movie over the course of twelve years, gathering the same actors together each time. The end result is that, over the course of almost three hours, the audience gets to watch a family grow and change, the children age and mature, particularly the film’s main subject, Mason (Ellar Coltrane). But Coltrane may have been cute at age five, and turned out to be a terrible actor a decade later. Any one of the actors may have decided they didn’t want to do the movie anymore. Filming a fictional movie in such a way was a big risk, but it paid off. “Boyhood” is more than a movie—it is an experience.

Ellar Coltrane at the beginning of 'Boyhood'
Ellar Coltrane at the beginning of 'Boyhood'
IFC Films

The film begins with Mason at age five and ends when he is eighteen and just beginning college. He has an older sister named Sam (Lorelei Linklater). His parents aren’t together. He and his sister live with their mom (Patricia Arquette), who goes through a series of failed marriages while working and also going back to school. Their musician dad (Ethan Hawke) isn’t around a lot, but he still makes time for his kids. Together, they sound like stereotypical characters. In reality, they couldn’t be farther from the truth. The mom rises above her struggles to become a teacher, and a darn good one at that. She marries both a professor and a military man, but both turn out to be horrible husbands. It turns out that the dad, the one who was never around, is the wisest character in the film, imparting knowledge to his children every time we see him. Throughout the film, Mason tries to take these experiences and use them to figure out who he is, and who he wants to be. There’s really no main plot other that that; there’s not a main conflict, but a series of little conflicts and triumphs that take place over time. We are not witnessing a small, intensely interesting segment of this family’s life, but a large chunk of their life, and some of it is more intriguing that others, because that’s just the way life works.

Each performance across the board is excellent, because the actors are so natural. Filming the movie over many years likely helped them feel comfortable around each other and look and actor more like a family, although it’s obvious from the beginning that they have great chemistry.

The movie does beg the question, would it be as amazing to watch had it not been filmed with the same actors over the course of twelve years? Probably not, although the script is strong enough, packed as it is with humor and sadness and triumph, that it would still make for a great film. People will also likely connect with it in different ways, depending on whether they are a parent or a child. But there’s something magical about watching a group of people grow and change seamlessly over time, and that’s what pushes “Boyhood” across the boundary between merely watching a film, and fully experiencing the world depicted on screen. So much could have gone wrong with it, but as it turns out, everything aligned as perfect as can be.

Runtime: 165 minutes. Rated R for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use.

Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:

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