At the beginning of the year I look at the films to be released and can usually peg 5 movies that could potentially become all time favorites. There are only a handful of director’s that have the potential to make special films. Richard Linklater is one of them. Boyhood is a movie 12 years in the making and it’s never been done before. Every year for 12 years he filmed a few scenes with actors and this year we finally get to see it, no wait, experience it. It’s a movie that is strikingly profound and heartwarming in its depiction of life and growing up. Ellar Coltrane stars as Mason, and we literally watch him grow from a 6 year old boy into an 18 year old college freshman. It’s an intimate family drama that by the end feels like a David Lean epic. I drove home teary eyed.
The movie never feel constructed or even aware of itsself. There’s no plot. It just observes characters having problems and growing up. Linklater is a master at capturing small moments and making them feel huge. His movies are always about a group of characters and small moments in time that add up to a cosmic whole. Boyhood is the grandest version of his filmmaking. It’s at once full of the tiniest moments he’s ever done but they add up to a grand universal vision that only he could create. His cinema is human, naturalistic, and soul-filling. Throughout the film Linklater inserts pieces of pop culture to create a sense of time and place. Everything from popular songs to video games to Harry Potter books are reminders of the small moments or checkpoints in life we take for granted, but stand as milestones when we remember.
Patricia Arquette plays the single mother and cares out an arc that is stunningly nuanced, vulnerable, and relatable. Ethan Hawke (A Linklater regular) plays the cool divorced dad who’s always on the brink of getting his shit together. Linklater’s daughter Lorelei plays Samantha, the sister of Mason, and adds another dimensional character we get to watch change along with Mason. There’s a ton of hilarious brother/sister moments between her and Mason. Hawke and Arquette are the real stars here and both give the best performances of their careers.
Dad gets the kids every few weekends, but the audience only sees him get them once a year. Linklater doesn’t spend time explaining what just happened the previous year, he just moves into the next vignette and we wonder where did time go? That’s the simplest but most extraordinary use of time that really articulates how life is. Everyday is the same and then one day you look around and it all changed somehow. The moments Linklater gives to us are not typical one’s either. It’s just simple, ordinary things, and that’s what makes the film so honest and ultimately profound. The is a film about moments and the sensations of them and how we look back at them. By the end, the film has been a journey and the scenes are memories of a character’s whole life that make us ponder our own. It’s an astounding achievement that I’m fumbling to articulate.
Throughout the film you can see the other films he was making at the time seep in. It then becomes a sorta of auteur roadmap. Andrew Sarris would lose his shit. The tracking shots in the Before films are here along with the casual conversational dialogue in Slacker and Dazed and Confused. As Mason grows up so does Linklater in his directing styles.
Something that Linklater understands better than anybody is how awkwardly teenagers talk about things. They talk almost stilted and stumble through their own feelings. Linklater shows how messy growing up really is. Ellar Coltrane as the lead isn’t a particularly charismatic or entrancing, but that’s sorta the point. He’s just this ordinary kid we’re observing.
Boyhood is the greatest Kuleshov test ever put to film. It might also be the best rorschach test. Linklater is using Mason so the audience can project meaning onto the film and create it for themselves. It’s not about his story or character arc. It’s the surroundings and passage of time that makes Boyhood such a marvel to experience. The form and content aren’t just the same, they interact with each other.
It’s an undeniable landmark movie that absolutely NEEDS to be seen, heard, experienced, and felt. You must understand how impressive this movie is. Consider the commitment from the cast and crew over these twelve years. The juggling act. The size of the canvas. It’d be a miracle if it even worked at all. The ambition and goals of the movie are something we see maybe once a decade. The fact that it ended up as a cohesive experience of twelve years through people’s lives makes it a truly great achievement in filmmaking. Linklater isn’t hugely concerned with the impressing you in his filmmaking. He doesn’t even want you to know he’s there. He’s concerned with naturalism, character and conversation. This is his definitive statement.
It’s not quite as perfect as the Before Movies or as legendary as the cult hangout stoner comedy, Dazed and Confused. I used to say Dazed and Confused or Before Sunset is his magnum opus, but this is undeniably his definitive work and a masterpiece. Yes, I used the M word.
Boyhood is his biggest experimental achievement and most profound film. An instant American classic and a coming of age film that stands alongside If, The 400 Blows, The Graduate, and his other teen masterpiece, Dazed and Confused. It’s a film I will constantly revisit because of how it forces me to look back on life while asking cosmic questions without ever having the characters allude to them. Linklater makes movies about small moments in life that we take for granted. What we don’t realize in the moment is that they’re the biggest moments of our lives. Boyhood forces us to project ourselves onto the film’s moments and we walk away with an understanding of what they mean on a grander scale.
This is the culmination of a 12 year experimental production, and the achievement here is a grand, experiential work from a modern master. Already it has reached classic status. It’s about a family, but it’s shown to us through the eyes of a boy growing up. This is a kuleshov and rorshach test on the biggest canvas ever. As the film cut to black I was shaken. I had just watched a boy and his family grow and change over 12 years. I began to reflect on my own life. I drove home teary eyed and felt like a weight had been lifted off of me and I now understood something I hadn’t before. There are no big moments in your life. Something happens and then something else happens. Boyhood gives you the key to living in these moments.