Movie Review: “Boyhood” is an essential modern classic #Boyhood

Boyhood - Ellar Coltrane as young and old Mason

One of the most ambitious movies ever made, “Boyhood” is essential viewing and a film that makes you invest in a character like nothing you’ve seen before.

Filmed over the course of 12 years, Director/Writer Richard Linklater (“Before Midnight”) explores the life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), a young boy we first meet at the age of 5. His parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke) are divorced, but friendly and Mason has a typical best friend/worst enemy relationship with his older sister Samantha (Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei).

boyhood - sam, mom and masonLinklater is no stranger to exploring the passage of time in his work, which he previously handled in his excellent “Before” trilogy of “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset” and “Before Midnight,” which advanced a decade between each film. “Boyhood” is on an even more ambitious scale.

Through the course of the film, Linklater takes us through a remarkably average life. Mason doesn’t save anyone’s life. He’s not some twisted horrific teenager. He doesn’t face some awful family tragedy nor is he particularly special. Mason isn’t a charismatic leader or prodigy poised  to change the world in any discernible manner. Arquette’s character sums up life as a series of milestones and lamenting that she always thought there would be more. You could argue the same could be said of the film, which Linklater refuses to “spice up” by tacking on unnecessary drama for the sake of making things “more interesting.”

Boyhood - Patricia Arquette and Ellar ColtraneBut what makes the film so riveting is the sense of ownership viewers will take in Mason’s life. This journey will at once remind them of what their own lives were like during those pivotal, transformative years while also giving them insight (or a reminder) of what it was like to raise another human being.

The parent experience has never been displayed so raw and creatively as we watch Mason growing before our eyes. We’re charmed as Mason takes his teacher’s assignments to literally, sympathize as he gets blamed for Samantha’s antics, laugh as he learns the birds and bees and get frustrated as he goes through his moody teen phase before finding direction and being comfortable with himself as he prepares for college.

Boyhood - Ellar Coltrane and Ethan HawkeTheir mother has the harder task of raising her children and making ends meet while trying to find a suitable companion of her own. Arquette embodies the modern American single mother and she hard-earns the audience’s respect and admiration as she shows the strength and vulnerability of a woman trying to do her best for her family. Hawke easily could have been stuck in the deadbeat dad role, but his character wants to remain in his children’s lives.

Boyhood - Ethan Hawke and Ellar ColtraneHawke provides a welcome uplifting presence whenever he’s on screen in one of his best performances. Arquette and Hawke both offer convincing portrayals of the splintered nuclear family and should be considered easy locks for at least award nominations.

The one slight knock on the film is its 165 min. length, which you’ll occasionally notice, but it’s hard to determine what should have been left on the cutting room floor. By the time it’s concluded, the audience will have a sense that they played a part in raising Mason.

Coltrane is so consistent that “Boyhood” feels less a film and more a documentary on one boy’s life.

Boyhood - main cast“Boyhood” is a truly groundbreaking experience and a standout film of this or any year fully deserving the tag of a modern classic. Greedily, I’m hoping Linklater has already started work on the sequel to show us Mason’s journey through adulthood.

Rating: 10 out of 10

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  • Good review. It’s a near-perfect movie, because while it doesn’t seem like much is happening, the fact is, there is something happening. It’s life, yo!

  • Thanks Dan. It was really good and easily one of my Top 5 for the year.

  • Fred

    I’ve heard good things about this film and I have to be sure to check it out. Sounds like this film will be on your best films on the year list which I always look forward to seeing.

  • Funny that you mention that as I just finished gathering my Top 10 Best/Worst and will be ranking them shortly. Just in time for my 2000th post 😉

  • Fred

    Well I can’ t wait my friend. Jeff you know I’ve always dug your reviews and year end lists because you’re as objective, open minded, fair and diverse as a film critic gets. Too many critics tend to jump only on Oscar bait films with their best films of the year list like they’re the end all be all and that’s definitely not always the case. I see a lot of prejudice in film critics where they just turn up their noses to a certain genre of film. I’m not saying they’re supposed to like what I might like, it’s just if your not open minded to other genres of film than I have absolutely no interest in you as a film critic and you go kick rocks as far as I’m concerned. I love films period, no matter what the genre and there needs to be more critics like you who view films as a whole that way. But enough of that, we’ve spoken about this before haha, I’m looking forward to your best films list as usual.

  • Saw a few more last night that are gonna wreck havoc with my original list. It’s all over the place as always 😉
    I kinda hate when critics disqualify blockbusters for being “light entertainment.” So lame. Anyway, I’ll have it finished in a few more days.

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