Movie Review: Boyhood
We saw Boyhood at the Independent Film Festival and compared to how I enjoyed my last experience there (Prince Avalanche, ugh), Boyhood was a welcome view. I am generally skeptical of movies at festivals like this for fear of them being boring or pretentious, but Boyhood proved to be refreshing.
The movie follows one boy through 12 years, filmed in real time, and ends with him going to college at the end of his boyhood (get it?). Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette are equally appealing as his divorced parents, and Lorelei Linklater is entrancing as Mason’s sister (although she was much more vivacious as a kid than she is when she grows up, spoiler alert). The main character, Mason, however, falls short. Falls short a lot. Ellar Coltrane portrays a whiney, hipster kid that is partly let down by the script (as a writer, I think 80% of a character is how he/she written on the page) and partly let down because it seems like he is just milking a choice his parents made when casting him as a kid. After all, what teenager has a steady job for over 10 years working with Ethan Hawke? He seems to be coasting.
It’s a long movie but it didn’t feel long, and we get to see the real-time progression of these people over the course of more than a decade, which is undeniably cool. These types of movies, though, leave me with a few questions: is it the novelty of the idea itself that makes people like the movie—i.e., if it was filmed like a normal movie, would people enjoy it as much? If it was filmed like it was but audiences didn't know it, would they still think it was ambitious? My guess is probably not.
Stars: 3 out of 5
What do to after the movie: Look at old photo albums and listen to Britney Spears (great soundtrack in this movie, by the way. Spears and otherwise.).
Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and Game of Thrones have done an excellent job at being better films than the actual films released the last few years, so it’s easy to forget what the genre is capable of accomplishing. Boyhood reminded me why I love movies (and why Richard Linklater is one of my very favorite directors working today).
The “gimmick” of the film has been well-documented, but it’s remarkable how well it works. The real-life aging of the actors gives a weight and depth to the characters that feels remarkably natural and somehow avoids being a constant distraction. While the phenomenon of characters that age in front of your eyes is not unheard of to anyone who’s ever watched a Home Improvement marathon at two in the morning on Nick at Nite, it’s the focus and the specificity of the content that really makes it work. We get about one scene for each year of Mason’s life, but it somehow feels like we haven’t missed a beat; like we’ve been living it alongside him.
But like any great movie, you're best off going in with little preconceived notion of what to expect. This is the rare great film that instructs you on how to watch it while you are watching it. Boyhood is a wonderful accomplishment and a welcome reminder of the possibility of innovation in yet another summer of sequels and reboots. If you love film, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
Stars: 5 out of 5.
Better than: anything else you will likely see this summer.