Boyhood is a masterpiece twelve years in the making
‘Boyhood’ is more than just a gimmick; it’s a truly great movie.
There are many movies about coming of age, and most of those are about male characters. Of course, this proportion comes from the fact that the vast majority of directors and screenwriters are male, but that’s Hollywood for ya! Thinking about the various stages of life means that you are using your memory, and that means that your biases come out. Trying to film a life as someone grows up is tricky, because you have to pick and choose the “important” bits. But that’s the brilliance and audacity of this movie, which could have so easily fallen apart.
In making Boyhood, director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, School of Rock, A Scanner Darkly) began work in 2002, filming a cast of characters but continuing to film pieces of their lives over the next twelve years. That means that we as the audience literally see these children grow up before our eyes. It’s sort of like a trick, but it’s also honest and real.
The movie starts with six year old Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he lives with his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter) and single mother (Patricia Arquette). Notably absent is the kids’ father (Ethan Hawke), who left to live in Alaska for a few years, but soon enough he returns to be a semi-regular part of their lives. The film then shows snippets and pieces of Mason’s life, primarily from his point of view, showing both extremely important and utterly typical moments as he grows up. The movie uses musical cues and the technology of the day, slowly evolving over time, showing all the various video game systems and devices they use. Mason is an intense kid, and as he grows up he begins to find an interest in photography, wanting to beome a legitimate artist. Over the course of these twelve years, we see friends, girls, and stepfathers come and go. Some times are better than others, but it’s always fascinating to watch.
At nearly three hours, the movie may seem imposing and too much to take in, but the pacing is surprisingly quick, with barely any dull moments and it’s edited impeccably. The same consistent style is maintained throughout, and instead we are gradually amazed as we watch all these actors get old. Sure, the adults too, but it’s truly amazing to see Samantha and Mason inch closer and closer to adulthood when we just saw them as little kids an hour earlier. Naturally, it’s also a minor miracle that these child actors stayed talented, and although there are moments of angst and pain, it’s utterly impressive how great Ellar Coltrane is here. This movie shows us the way life really is, with the dramatic moments that matter to each of us, but no giant monsters or worlds needed to be saved. Instead, it’s about the journey of a person and the people important to him. Yes, there are some rotten people here, but they are realistic and reflective of truth.
The parents are vital characters here too, and although we don’t see everything in their lives, we see the changes and the growth. It wasn’t as dramatic as seeing the kids become adults, but watching these actors actually age was a level of “realness” that I’ve never seen before. Fancy makeup and CGI only can go so far, after all. By the time the movie ended, I felt very connected to the characters and truly happy about the journey. It wasn’t an epic tragedy or romance, nor an uproarious comedy, yet all that was here, the humor and drama of everyday life. The tertiary characters may come and go, but everyone feels fully realized, and I never felt like the movie was wasting my time. So yeah, it was a three hour movie about watching kids grow up. But damn if it wasn’t a great example of that genre, and perhaps the only time we’ll ever see this technique used again.