Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Libby Villari, Marco Perella, Brad Hawkins, Jenni Tooley, Zoe Graham, Charlie Sexton, Jamie Howard, Andrew Villarreal, Elijah Smith, Nick Krause, Tom McTigue, Steven Chester Prince, Evie Thompson, Jennifer Griffin, Tamara Jolaine, Taylor Weaver and Ryan Power
It seems like Richard Linklater was bound to make a film like this and that our love for cinema was bound to be rewarded in such a moving and magical way. Cinema was made for spectacle, for experiences and for intimacy with the subject. It evolved and evolved in so many ways throughout these decades. Of the many experiments filmmakers have done, 'toying' with the passage of time always fascinates me for its real-life implications. Life always passes by. We always repeat that same line "How time just went by..." when something good happens in our life or when we are enjoying any particular moment. How wonderful that Richard Linklater (the observant devil that he is) took that idea and made an entire film over the span of twelve years on it. The idea that a film was shot little by little every year over twelve-year period with the same actors sounds intimidating. Many cynics will term that as a gimmick, oh what is so special about seeing people grow up and do boring things in a film? Boyhood is far from a gimmick, it is not like suddenly Michael Bay stood up and decided to make an avant-garde film just to silence the critics (not that he cares for them). That would be a gimmick. Linklater is one of the most original, freshest and unabashedly experimental filmmakers America has at the moment within the indie filmmaking circle. He has never been too mainstream or too unnoticed. Never too eager to please nor particularly shy to hold back. People respect him mostly for his wonderful "Before Trilogy". A series which re-visits two fictional characters every 9 years. Every film gets better, more creative, more expressive and emotional. He made films which spanned over a few hours, an entire day and an entire week. He loves exploring time and relationships in his films as well as their relationship with each other. The end results are always fascinating but affective as well. You don't just drop your jaws but these films, characters, moments, they touch your heart. Linklater has great observant mind, he likes the everyday, the mundane or simply, life.
Boyhood seemed like such a fantastic idea, it won him Silver Bear for Best Director at Berlin International Film Festival (again!). And when the film was actually released, the response it got was unlike anything I have seen in my life. People weren't just liking the film but they were loving it to bits. A perfect 100 score at Metacritic, a storm of 5/5's and A's. Some said that is harmful for film criticism to have unanimous praise because the few critics with opposite opinions would be met with harsh reactions. So we are not allowed to love a film now? The thing is, films or works of any art for that matter can never have unanimous praise. They just can't. On the other hand, trolls are everywhere. They will always troll around whether you love Boyhood too much or hate Twilight to death. Who cares?
A little (big!) introduction to the characters. We have Mason who is 6 when the film begins, played by Coltrane, the main focus of the film. He has a sister, Samantha (played by Linklater's own daughter) and his mother Olivia (played by Arquette). Olivia is a single mother, separated for many years from Mason Sr. (played by Hawke). They live in a small town in Texas before moving to Houston so that Olivia can attend college in hopes for getting a better job since their current status is pretty minimum and its hard for her to pay for everything. Olivia has a boyfriend first and you realize that she have had her fair share of them, you can't blame her. But she has never truly been in a relationship post-separation because she has to take care of her children and has no time for even herself. Mason watches and overhears the arguments and conversations just like any other kid. It is always the troubles, the fights that you mostly remember apart from the good things. You see how he longs for his dad to be around but has grown to understand why his parents can't live together. Mason Sr. visits them of course, he takes the children out for weekends sometimes over the years. Bowling, playing, parks and so on. Both Mason and Samantha have great time with their dad. They feel like they are on a vacation, an incomplete one but they get the most out of it. Mason Sr. is really kind with his kids and wants them to be as carefree and 'normal' as they can be because he too realizes how he has to get the most out of the time they get together. Over the years, Olivia re-marries and divorces. The kids go through so much, life happens. In and out of homes and cities as they become teenagers. They have crushes, friends, Mason encounters bullies, he makes more friends. He has ambitions as well as doubts. He has big questions about life and what it means as well as smaller things like why his dad never gave him the car he promised to? Kids! People come and go in their lives, beautiful webs are weaved.
Boyhood begins with the lovely Coldplay song, "Yellow" as Six-year-old Mason watches the sky. He is lying on the grass, daydreaming and watching the clouds. The camera pulling back from his adorable and innocent face. Its a poignant moment that immediately touches you. It is wonderful that in between so much that happens in the film or implied or happens off-screen, the fact that it took so many years for Linklater to make this film, he knows his objectives and never loses the direction. I will talk about the naysayers who thinks that Boyhood is fairly ordinary looking, that it has nothing great about his visuals or visual storytelling. Boyhood has several objective and subjective shots. The breathless scope that it has, there are small moments in which Linklater makes us get closer and more intimate with the characters without having the need to go the over the top melodrama route. There is the story and the wonderful writing sure but you need to feel closer to these people without just watching them from afar. For example: There is a few seconds shot when the family is moving out. As Olivia is driving the car out of her neighbourhood, Mason observes a kid riding a bike (not sure if he is some random kid or Mason's friend). The camera focuses on Mason's face as he watches by the kid and then the camera shows the POV shot of Mason watching from the car window and we see exactly what he does. The big shrubs slightly obscure his view of the kid on the bike. Such a small moment and yet the impact is very beautiful. It reminds you of those times when you had to move out or when you have to leave behind a place and there is that last-minute desperate attempt to look at those places where you spent so much time. To have one last look. There is beautiful camerawork done in this film. The photography is quite good. Linklater doesn't just shows but he captures. From Mason's closeup shot of his face as he sadly watches the dead raccoon to my most favorite shot in the film which comes towards the end.
As expected, there comes the time when Mason has to leave his home to go to college. His sister has already left so his mom will be left all alone. Mason is packing up and he sees an old photograph his mom had kept in his box. Olivia asks him to keep it with him since it was the first photograph he ever took. Mason replies by saying something like "All the more reason to leave it behind". The camera suddenly pulls back, the entire room in focus, Olivia to one side, Mason's box to the other. There is a big painting on the wall and other stuff lying around. Yet that shot feels so empty. It doesn't have enough people in it. Just a house with one sad mother. The next scene has Olivia bursting into tears and realizing how she has nothing left to do now but wait to die. That one shot said so much about that particular moment that words weren't needed, the picture said everything.
One particular aspect that should be much-lauded in the film is its editing. Linklater may have the idea for it but still, Sandra Adair had a gigantic task to put all of this together. The film unfolds as it would in real life yet you realize there isn't a consistent plot in the film per say but just the idea of people growing up. That isn't a negative of course because that consistency is in the execution of it all and Linklater never losing his focus. The film feels so effortless, you lose yourself in their lives. There are small moments that reminds you of your life as well. Its the same journey no matter where you live or grow up. You may not completely identify with Mason or you might. But nevertheless, you are reminded of your conflicts, your questions and your various perceptions growing up. Your games, your outdoors, your gifts. The good times and bad times. Boyhood evokes the feeling of confronting yourself through various points in your life. Its a journey back to your childhood and teenage years. Travelling back in time and watching yourself grow up. It puzzles me how they all pulled it off so easily. Boyhood looks and feels faultless. The pacing never stumbles, the action never feels stalled and the emotions never fade away. Watching Ellar Coltrane grow older is a different feeling altogether. A kid was casted in a film and when he finished working, he had developed the facial hairs. How insane is that? Throughout the film he acts very naturally. The main focus is on him and he doesn't disappoint. Whether his character is dealing with domestic issues, personal conflicts or felling something far deeper, Coltrane is able to show that. Ethan Hawke gives a good performance as well as the father. His features get changed as well. Everyone changes in the film. For a film titled 'Boyhood', this film not only shows a character literally growing up but carries other related characters together and develops them further as well. They grow up too, they develop as well. Hawke is very sort of energetic and cool in his performance. Then there are slightly deeper moments where he shines as well. The intimate moments with his son when he talks about kid stuff to video games to cars to music to girlfriends and contraception. The performances are very good all around, Lorelei Linklater stumbles slightly at first but isn't particularly a negative. It must be surreal for Mr. Linklater himself to watch his daughter on-screen and capture her throughout these years. Maybe he had her in the film just so he could feel more closer emotionally to the basic idea he was exploring in the film?
No, I did not forget the wonderful Patricia Arquette here. She probably gives her career best turn in this film. From a single and concerned mother driving around to the married responsible woman on her way to college and then becoming a teacher. Olivia herself goes to several transformations which might not be the main focus of the film but nevertheless as I mentioned, Linklater wanted to carry all these characters together. She has her fair share of moments as well. The highlight being her breakdown towards the end. That and her various high on drama moments between an abusive husband to a concerned parent and a woman wanting to be self-sufficient. There is a moment which I won't spoil for effect but that look on her face when a random character reappears in the film, priceless, just priceless. Arquette should get some awards love specially. I am really hoping she will. Boyhood also has a great soundtrack. I thought it was clever of them not to play catchy songs with the montages as we usually have in films. Instead, there were few times when a song will be played just for effect and then stopped. Most of the times, the characters themselves would play the songs in their car or something. Clever idea. Plus there are some wonderful moments when the characters sing themselves. You will love it. Mason watching his creative dad sing a country song then carrying that gene as he grows up to become a photographer himself.
Boyhood is unconcerned with being a masterpiece. It is a humbled piece of work. I guess that is what makes it so great. The scale of this movie is epic, the film itself is epic but it feels very intimate. It explores the themes which we live with. Something we always encounter and are part of our existence. It is impossible not to react personally to this film. The daily mundane life! Life is short. Until it just rushes and the moments just passes by and you realize what that overused line means. Boyhood itself passes by just like that. The nearly 3 hours running time feels nothing. Best summarized in the scene (which I have mentioned a thousand times now, sorry!) where Olivia realizes that too. She realizes how time just went by. Now there are just those milestones she will recall when it was just yesterday that she was actually living them. Marrying, giving birth, divorcing several times, caring for her children, finally studying further and getting the job she wanted. Then there are the smaller moments and memories with their children. Her kids grew up so fast and now her job is done. These kids now have their own lives to look forward to. They will experience disappointments as well. There will be all kinds of days. A beautiful thing that is said in the film about those moments is that we are always in them. We can't catch or seize them when we are actually living them in the first place. Boyhood is a breathless masterpiece, filled with astonishing beauty and an effortless way to depict life. It is a great film in every way for what it is, what it implies and what it evokes. Linklater has created a soulful triumph of life which will and should stay with you forever. I will congratulate the entire team on this achievement. At the moment, it seems like I have already seen the best film of the year. It is one of the greatest films ever made.