Richard Linklater’s Boyhood has been wowing critics and audiences since its première at Sundance in January. The acclaim is universal, boisterous and very enthusiastic. (The film has a score of 99 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 9.4/10)
Boyhood follows Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from age 5 to age 18 as he goes to school, plays video games, goes to college, and everything in between. The film is gorgeous and exquisitely shot, finding beauty in the mundanity of everyday tasks, of life and its ups, downs and middles. There is no plot to speak of, just the journey you are on with Mason and his family.
It’s not unusual for films to span years or decades. Boyhood does, but it’s unique in that it was filmed a few weeks at a time over 12 years using the same cast and crew. Kudos to everyone involved for committing and trusting that the end product would be spectacular, and not just a feat or gimmick. The cast includes Coltrane, who does great work though he doesn’t get the meatiest or juiciest bits; many times, Coltrane’s performance was just a look, a sigh or an eye roll. But if Linklater is Boyhood‘s brain and Coltrane’s Mason is the film’s soul, then Mason’s mom Olivia, played by Patricia Arquette, is the film’s heart, turning in her best work ever. The cast is rounded out by Lorelai Linklater (the director’s daughter) as Samantha, Mason’s older sister, and Ethan Hawke, who plays their absentee-but-wants-to-change dad. Hawke is no stranger to Linklater films: he starred in the director’s sublime Before Sunrise trilogy, which follows a couple (Hawke and Julie Delpy) at different stages in their relationship. Boyhood isn’t a four-person film, just like lives aren’t shaped by just parents and siblings: Marco Perella, Cambell Westmoreland, Richard Robichaux and Cassidy Johnson may not get top billing on Boyhood, but their characters helped build Mason into the 18-year-old we see at the end of the film.
Some have written that scenes Boyhood reminded them of their own childhoods. This is true; Boyhood is a walk down memory lane for many things, including music, fashion, technology and politics. Some of the best scenes involved some interaction between the characters about those things: early one morning, Mason is annoyed by his sister’s singing of “Oops… I Did It Again;” a character later gets into trouble for playing with a 20Q at the dinner table; later, a McCain/Palin sign is stolen from someone’s lawn. Mason plays XBOX, GameBoy Advance, and Aaliyah’s “Try Again” plays at a party. The film has a strong sensibility for what was in when it was filmed, so it really serves as a time capsule for the last decade, good and bad (Remember Gotye? That song that you used to know is in the film too). Among the film’s highlights – and since Boyhood, with its snappy dialogue and long tracking shots plays like a Linklater Greatest Hits film, it’s not a stretch to suggest every sequence is memorable and important – is the kids getting The Talk from their dad, who complains that he learns more about his daughter “from her Facebook page than our scintillating conversations.”
But even if you aren’t a white boy living in Texas or the child of divorced parents or a skinny awkward teen who hated your mom’s boyfriends or a young adult unsure what to do with your life, Boyhood will at the very least let you live and feel and see those things through Mason. If that’s not cinema, what is?
I went into the screening with the highest of expectations because of the buzz surrounding the film. It really, really doesn’t disappoint, and how could it? Linklater is one of the most versatile American filmmakers (he has Dazed and Confused, School of Rock and Bernie to his name among others). If anyone is able to create characters that are real, relatable and compelling, and have us yearn to follow them and their stories for years, it’s the genius behind the Before series.
Boyhood is playing at Cineplex Forum and Cinéma Excentris in Montreal.
★★★★ (out of ★★★★)