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Josh Reviews Boyhood

August 21st, 2014
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The stunt concept behind Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood would make it worthy of note even if the end result wasn’t all that compelling.  In an audacious, jaw-droopingly cool years-long undertaking, director Richard Linklater and his cast (including Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, and young Ellar Coltrane) shot for a few weeks a year for twelve years (you read that right) to create a film that followed the journey to maturity of a young boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane).

All the more so, then, am I ready to shout from the rooftops in praise of this film, because what Mr. Linklater and his talented collaborators have created is a film that is staggeringly beautiful, an emotionally rich journey that is unlike any other film I have ever seen.  The film is over two and a half hours long, but I felt it blew by in mere moments, and I would have gladly watched another two and a half hours without complaint.

One might expect a film shot in small segments over the course of twelve years to feel choppy and episodic.  But I was delighted by how smoothly the film works as a whole.  The story-telling and the editing are masterful.  Each sequence flows smoothly into the next, carrying the audience along with the flow of these people’s lives.

Mr. Linklater and his team chose incredibly well in casting young Ellar Coltrane (merely 7  years old when the project began in 2002) as Mason.  Mr. Coltrane is incredible, and I found his performance to be as convincing and open and honest when he was seven as when he was eighteen.  Whenever I praise the work of a child actor I have to reserve half the praise for his/her director.  (Same goes with criticism.  I don’t blame Jake Lloyd for The Phantom Menace, I blame George Lucas.  But I digress.)  So bravo to Mr. Linklater for finding such a remarkable young man, and for the care with which he worked with him over the course of twelve years, in order to draw out such a remarkable performance.  And bravo to Mr. Coltrane himself.  If he never makes another film, this will always stand as a remarkable acting performance.  But I hope very much that this young man will make many, many more films.

Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette are both wonderful as Mason’s parents.  They are as fully-developed, interesting characters as Mason himself, and I appreciated that the film takes the time to flesh out the both of them as much as it does Mason.  I love how neither parent is idealized.  We see both Olivia’s (Patricia Arquette) and Mason Sr.’s (Ethan Hawke) flaws and weaknesses front and center.  But we also see all that is good in them.  This film could have been called Parenthood as much as it was called Boyhood, as over the course of the film we see in staggering clarity the way both Olivia and Mason Sr. rub off on Mason, for the good and the bad, and the incredible impact they each have on the young man he becomes.

This is key to the power of the film.  Without resulting in an overly sensationalized, dramatic summary of a boy’s life (Boyhood contains many dramatic moments, but I didn’t ever feel like the film was “the twelve most important and dramatic days in Mason’s life!”), Boyhood is remarkable in the way in shines a light on certain deep, basic truths of life, truths that can easily get overshadowed or overlooked in the face of life’s slow progress.  But these simple truths are illuminated as we watch twelve years pass in under three hours.

Getting back to Mr. Hawke and Ms. Arquette, both actors are remarkable, bringing such heart and soul into their characters.  I don’t think I have ever enjoyed either of them more than I do in this film.

I understand that the story of Boyhood is fictional, but as we watch Ellar/Mason grow from a seven year-old boy to an eighteen year-old man, it’s easy to forget that this is a work of fiction.  True, the events of the film might not be true, but we are really watching this boy grow up during this incredible two-and-a-half hour time-lapse photography creation of a film!  That is real!  That is true!  And that, combined with the film’s wise and naturalistic script (apparently a very collaborative effort between Mr. Linklater’s and his ensemble of actors) and tremendous performances gives the film an honesty and a verisimilitude that is staggering.

As I wrote above, I love that the film doesn’t ever feel like it’s trying to cram in every single dramatic moment that might have happened in it this boy’s life.  Instead, the film has a far more gentle, naturalistic flow to it.  One year flows smoothly into the next, as it does in real life.  Some moments are dramatic, and some are mundane.  But all are compelling and engaging.

I was quite overwhelmed by Boyhood.  This is a film I am eager to revisit, hopefully sometime very soon.  This ambitious, unique experiment is far more than just that.  It is a film of remarkable power and truth.  I loved every moment.

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