Director Richard Linklater shot Boyhood over a period of twelve years. During that period the six-year-old boy he cast as the film’s lead grew up, became a young man and finally an adult. Meanwhile the times and the other actors changed around this Ellar Coltrane, in front of Linklater’s camera, and the result is an extraordinary film that captures what it means to live, love and experience. Boyhood truly is a movie that’s beautifully humanistic and subdued, a motion picture that’s so wonderfully imagined and executed, that it feels like you are watching a real person learn and transform. And while Coltrane’s Mason is definitely the center of the film, Linklater’s latest effort is not just about Mason and his boyhood; it’s just as much a picture about mothers, fathers, sisters and, in short, family.
A conceit like Boyhood‘s, the fact that its various scenes have been filmed over a span of twelve years, could easily come off as gimmicky, as a quirky and unnecessarily complicated idea only dreamed up to set the movie apart on a conceptional level. The truth is though, that it never comes off as anything less than instrumental to the film’s success. The aging of the actors adds such a realism, tangibility and weight to the movie, such a feeling of disarming earnestness, that there’s only one conclusion to be drawn: Linklater’s decision to commit to this story for such a long time has paid off and is in fact what makes Boyhood such a tender, fragile and life-like film. The visibility of the aging process, which is especially impactful in the case of the young actors, makes you feel like, over the course of the movie, you’ve really seen these people lead a significant chunk of their lives, which is a monumental achievement. Important to note is that, despite that feeling, Boyhood truly flies by; the picture has a running time of 164 minutes but never once does it feel like it. It’s also telling that, while you’re watching it, you never think about the logistics of the making of this movie because you are so immersed in the film’s story.
The narrative itself is quite loose, though. While there’s definitely a through line and a clear central character, there’s really nothing Boyhood‘s building toward other than young Mason’s adulthood, which is actually another one of the film’s strengths. Because of it the movie possesses a fleeting quality that effectively mirrors life in how we structure our own past through memories. Boyhood gives us glimpses of a life lived, but via these fragments it ultimately creates the illusion that you have witnessed the entirety of Mason’s transformation from a six-year-old boy to an eighteen-year-old man by the time the credits roll. Linklater’s script is very efficient when it comes to giving us scenes that, combined, feel like someone’s entire youth, but that’s hardly the screenplay’s only feat. Much like Linklater’s other films, especially the Before trilogy, the dialogue just feels like everyday conversations and the characters come off as actual human beings: these people are flawed, make mistakes, find out what works as they go. Their efforts to find out who they are, what they want and who they want to be are extremely compelling and, indeed, true to life.
Boyhood‘s four leads also need to be commended for their work. Linklater’s gamble to cast a six-year-old and build an entire movie around this kid, was a good one: Ellar Coltrane is a very likeable lead and very natural actor who exudes warmth and portrays Mason as a goodhearted, quiet, bright and sensitive kid. His work from the age of 6 to the age of 18 is all wonderful and throughout the film Coltrane really pulls you into Boyhood‘s story. Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter, is also outstanding: she plays Mason’s sister Samantha and much like Coltrane there’s a vulnerability to her acting while she also demonstrates great comedic chops and quite the dramatic range. The other leads, Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as the kids’ dad and mom, are also outstanding. Arquette really showcases some of her career’s best work here as a hard-working single mother who wants the best for her kids, but also wants to find some happiness for herself while doing it. She’s impressive in every scene she’s in and through her acting Arquette really creates a character you root for. Some of the movie’s most dramatic scenes revolve around her character and she’s more than able to do the heavy lifting. Frequent Linklater collaborator Hawke is also wonderful as the dad, a guy who at first doesn’t want to grow up but really tries to be a good father to his kids. His performance is endearing, sweet, often funny, and much like Arquette, he has a great chemistry with both Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater, which is why the film’s family dynamic works so well.
But Boyhood is mostly a movie that is a testament to Richard Linklater’s vision and craftsmanship. The writer/director is clearly one of the films stars: he was responsible for the beautifully crafted dialogue, the story’s development, the structure of the scenes, the choices of his actors, the pacing of the narrative, the gorgeous look that he managed to keep consistent over a span of twelve years, et cetera. It’s clear from every frame and every line of dialogue that he has put a lot of thought and hard work into this very special project, which makes Boyhood a very rich picture. While filming Linklater was also able to precisely pinpoint what period’s pop culture phenomena and technological developments would prove significant for a certain place in time, which really adds another wonderful layer to his movie: a nostalgia regarding our own pasts. From everything in this film it’s abundantly clear that Linklater really is a master of his craft, but that’s not the only thing you take away from it: it’s also apparent that he has a grasp on humanity, life and the entire register of human emotions, and this understanding really lends an authenticity and universality to most of his films but to Boyhood especially. Linklater is one of the best writer/directors working today, one who’s perceptive, has something to say and whose films manage to touch the hearts of audiences over and over again because of it.
Boyhood is a masterpiece, an incredible film that tells a deeply moving story and beautifully showcases Linklater and his cast’s many talents. 10/10