Incredibly honest, subtle and relatable, Boyhood is a powerful observation on real life, shown through one boy’s upbringing and the changing relationships with his family and friends.
It leaves you wanting more, more ‘time’ spent with this boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), at each of these formative phases and a more visceral engagement with his journey, but this is probably the point – we always want more from life. And more than that, our passive acceptance as an audience to be spoon-fed ‘ready meal’ emotions by our cinema experience has left us desensitised to its innate power to actually achieve something fresh and moving. This is where Boyhood steps in and serves a big dollop of real life; we may not be used to it anymore but that does nothing to diminish its vitality.
This is a rare thing: a truly original work. Where other films use costume, props and music to set the scene of a passed era, this one was actually there capturing each period as it happened.The film plays out in front of you taking on a life of its own; becoming more about the process and journey of making it than solely the narrative content. Although it must be said that the narrative content stands alone as a towering effigy to director Richard Linklater‘s uniquely focused outlook on what it is to be alive; the inner and outer struggles faced when moving through the different epochs of one’s own lifetime.
And it’s this process that needs most attention and warrants the most praise. To start a project with no idea what lies ahead, not shooting the story over 12 weeks but 12 years, would surely boggle the mind of any producer, actor and, well, anyone working in the movie business but the finished product, born of all those years of patient labour, are testament to Linklater’s prevailing belief and vision. Consider our metaphorical caps well and truly doffed, Richard.
The sheer and utter genius of this film is in the cinéma vérité style in which it is filmed. Knowingly interweaving contemporary cultural references into the fabric of each ‘age’ that we experience in Mason’s life, e.g. his sister singing Brittney Spears (indeed the soundtrack as a whole), gives the modern audience simultaneous feelings of nostalgia and immediacy. And that’s where Boyhood not only separates itself from all other movies but stands firmly in its own arena as a massive landmark in modern cinema. Hollywood has always been interested in box office returns and making the next ‘biggest’ movie but, in a landscape saturated with largely soulless action spectacular prequels, sequels and remakes, Linklater and his team have created a fault line and shown that innovation and originality are still very much alive and kicking.
It’s really more a commentary on time. Time passing. Our bodies change, our social interactions and relationships change but somehow nothing really changes. As this boy says himself at the very end of the film, ‘there is only now’ – this gets a big laugh because of its seemingly obvious nature but it actually holds the film’s core message. Perhaps the point is that collectively we find the obvious amusing whereas individually we experience it on a very real and personal level. You grow up always thinking you’ll reach some certain level and you’ll become an adult; the reality is that never happens. You go to school, you go to high school, you go to college (university), all just to realise that moment you were waiting for never arrives. In Boyhood we’re shown these formative moments which, one after another, are forgotten and replaced by the next. The film’s enduring message is a powerful allegory, but also documentation, of time. Time and how we live through it, how it lives through us.
Long time collaborator Ethan Hawke and, particularly, Patricia Arquette are outstanding as the estranged parents of our eponymous Boy. Arquette’s unlucky-in-love single mom of two, carries and delivers the key speeches in the film: what we want, expect and hope for from life are so often in complete contrast to what we’re actually served by it.
Boyhood moves you to thought and consideration through its gentle approach to storytelling, never once forcing the issue, allowing you to make connections and contemplations of your own accord. It is what any good film should be: a mirror for your own thoughts/dreams. Maybe this time going further, though, and being a mirror for your own life. Now, that’s a great film.
An ambitious, intelligent and staggering achievement of filmmaking, one that deserves to be seen more than once and certainly all the praise it receives. Go and see it. It’s important.
first published on filmjuice.com