The experiment worked. Boyhood (opening today) is a twelve-year-in-the-making masterpiece, a film that could have gone wrong in any number of uncontrollable ways. But its a grand achievement in filmmaking and story-telling. Better yet, it's a moving experience and should be on everyone's list of must-see movies this or any year.
Over-stating things? I don't think so. Writer/Director Richard Linklater set out with an ambitious idea: What if I told a coming-of-age story where the characters literally come-of-age before our very eyes? Shooting a little bit every year, Linklater's story began in 2003 with the same group of actors, up to present day. When we first meet the young boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), he is a seven-year-old boy. By the time the film is over, he is a nineteen-year-old young man on the verge of the rest of his life.
Even at a run time of 185 minutes, I wanted the story to continue.
The story isn't anything special in and of itself, its the handling of the story that makes it so. When we first meet young Mason, he is a quiet and introspective little boy, living with his single mom (Patricia Arquette) and his annoying sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, real-life daughter of the director). His cool-but-distant dad (Ethan Hawke) is just starting to come around and into the picture. It is life as we know it, as we can all relate to it.
This is not a movie full of explosions, unexpected pregnancies, major catastrophes or death. Instead, it is just about the simple things in life, the things we all have dealt with and deal with, especially those of us who come from broken homes and families. Anybody familiar with Linklater's trilogy - Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight - will recognize the tone and feel of the film. It's nothing you can put a finger on, but Linklater just makes these films feel organic.
As Mason grows up, we notice the subtle changes in him and the world around him. Boyhood excels with what is not blatantly stated. You might laugh, for example, to see technology and terminology that was used back in 2002, but no attention is ever drawn. As he grows into his own person, we see how his past has helped shape his future and how the relationships of those around him change and grow as well. We root for him because he is us.
What could have been a gimmicky filmmaking premise, in Linklater's hands, turns into a stroke of true genius and brilliance. We have seen characters "grow up" on screen before, but never like this. Seeing Mason at age seven and then at age nineteen by the film's end, goes miles in depicting the underlying theme of how time flies and how all we are left with are a series of moments. Again, this is done with subtlety and grace.
It's also important to note that Ethan Hawke, a good actor in his own right, absolutely shines under Linklater's direction. Just when you thought Hawke couldn't do more than what he did in the Before series, he gives us this performance, the best of his career and the best of this year by far. His "deadbeat dad" begins as cliche and grows over the years along with that of his on-screen son. Watching their relationship bloom and grow was one of the film's highlights for me.
And he's not the only one. Patricia Arquette does award-worthy work here as well. While Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater don't enter "breakthrough" status for me, they're "non-actor" approach is exactly what makes the film work.
Don't go into Boyhood if you are looking for a Summer blockbuster, for cheap thrills, diversion and/or familiar melodrama. Do see it if you like the sort of film that will move you.
Boyhood is a trend-setting, ground-breaking film and one of the best films of this year. Better yet, it will be hard to imitate, unless we're all willing to wait another twelve years to see if someone else can pull off something similar. Such a simple film, to possess this much magnitude.
Run Time: 2 hour 45 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater, Marco Perella
Written & Directed by Richard Linklater (Before Midnight, Before Sunset, Before Sunrise, Bernie, School of Rock)
Opens locally on Friday, Aug 1, 2014 (check for show times).
Be sure to watch Tom Santilli on TV! Check your local listings for “Movie Show Plus” for Tom’s weekly movie review segment.
How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time