SXSW Film Review – Boyhood
Richard Linklater has been one of the most creative filmmakers working the last few decades. Between mainstream, indie, and even experimental films, he has used cinema as a canvas in a way few working directors have even attempted. His latest project, Boyhood, deserves to be counted among his most ambitious and unique projects yet, as he filmed part of it every year for twelve consecutive years featuring the same young actor.
The story follows Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he grows up in the tumultuous environment of a divorced home, and all the trials and tribulations that impact his family. Joining him on his journey are his mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), his father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), and his sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater – Richard’s daughter).
As talented as Linklater is, one of the most impressive characteristics is his fearlessness. He doesn’t make movies just because they are easy…and this has probably been a bit of a determinant to his career. Sure, he has massive hits like Dazed and Confused and School of Rock on his resume, but mainstream audiences have probably missed major portions of his career like Before Sunrise, Waking Life, or Tape because they are true examples of indie filmmaking. Whether they aren’t designed to be the taste of mainstream audiences or they aren’t able to make waves due to not having advertising budgets, they are often overlooked. Heading into Boyhood, that was my fear for this project, especially upon discovering its 163-minute run time. I couldn’t have been more wrong; not only was the story easily accessible (and quite relatable to anyone coming from divorced parents), but the runtime actually flew by…never feeling like it was over two hours or dragged at all.
The film is an interesting combination of part improvisation and part highly directed narrative. At SXSW, Linklater spoke about having a vision for how the film was going to go but evolving the characters (particularly Ellar) based on interests he picked up as he was growing up. More than just improving lines, like many movies do (which isn’t the type of improv I’m referring to here), the characters were allowed to grow and be molded naturally, helping to reinforce the evolution that the title and story are hitting upon. The film is wrought with nostalgia; more than just documenting the experiences of a group of kids, it does an amazing job eliciting feelings about our own lives and speaks to us on a visceral level that words cannot even capture.
A huge amount of credit for this must be given to the child actors. Ellar Coltrane is phenomenal, and to dispel any myths—no, they weren’t just documenting his childhood growing up. As an actor it is amazing to see him evolve to fully form a character a level most cinematic stories will never achieve (television is a different beast entirely, an deserves its own discussion). To complement him, his older sister, Samantha, and the chemistry between them is one of the most engaging parts of the movie. In fact, some of the years I actually enjoyed Samantha’s story more than Mason’s, actually leaving me wondering if they would’ve been better off titling the movie Childhood instead of Boyhood. There is a lot of talent on the parental level with Arquette and Hawke, but Linklater does a great job of letting the kids be the focus and letting them be given the opportunity to shine.
One of the greatest challenges of the movie is that it covers 12 years in 163 minutes. If you do the calculations, that works out to about 14 minutes they have available per year. This leads to a film that might not be up everyone’s alley stylistically. It is easy to watch and the characters are engaging, but it would be better to describe it as a slice-of-life-type picture rather than a taut narrative. There are certainly story lines and characters you would love to see developed further but are left to the side, whether due to the end of their story lines, intentionally, or perhaps due to the actors being unavailable to film. Despite jumping so much time it is amazing how cohesive the final product is. Since there aren’t chapter markers or title cards to separate the different periods, it is at times hard to tell when one year ends and another year begins.
Linklater had a smash success last year with his conclusion to the Before Sunrise trilogy in Before Midnight, a film that was beloved among fans of the series. Boyhood looks to not only please the established fans of Linklater, but potentially usher a new generation of filmgoers into the world of independent film, and there could not be a better greeter on their way in. It took over a decade to make, but Boyhood is even more than a once-in-a-generation-type experience. If you are a true fan of cinema or looking for a reason to be nostalgic for your childhood, then this movie is a must see.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0oX0xiwOv8&w=560&h=315]