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).
Linklater 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.”
But 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.
Their 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.
Hawke 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” 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