Movie Review: ‘Boyhood’
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, and Ellar Coltrane
Plot: A chronicle of one boy’s life from ages 6 to 18.
Filmed over the course of 12 years, thus allowing the actors to age as their characters do, Richard Linklater covers familiar ground waxing poetic about life, love, and the biggest mysteries with his simple but surprisingly poignant stoner philosophizing, much like the kind we saw in his past efforts: Waking Life and the Before series.
It stars newcomer Ellar Coltrane as Mason Jr, whose boyhood it is that we are watching. He unfortunately becomes the poster boy for the dangers of hiring child actors. He is simply too wet behind the ears to make a mark on your memory. He plays his artsy-fartsy head-in-the-clouds character as a little too mumbly and emotionally numb to make a big enough splash. I wonder if it is simply a strange decision made by Linklater since there are a few scenes where Coltrane seems to really come alive, and they just over did the inherent emo-ness of Mason.
Linklater is able to save this picture for the most part by some of the more unique directing and storytelling techniques in cinema. The aforementioned 12 year filming period goes a long way as Coltrane ages before our very eyes, while instilling a strange sense of nostalgia when seeing Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, playing Mason’s parents, over a decade younger than they actually are. It also sort of allows us to experience the movie as a living photo album for this young man and his family. Each scene has an added sense of honesty being written and produced in that moment of time without the power of hindsight to flavor it, which leads to some pretty entertaining and candid discussions about George Bush and Star Wars sequels.
It truly sets itself apart by carving its own path. There are no usual coming of age signposts in this movie. There’s no first kiss or loss of virginity. No driving exams or graduation speeches. No operatic tragedies that could be found in movies more often than street corners (except for two melodramatic run-ins with alcoholic step-fathers). Instead, we get a series of trivial incidences which have bigger effect on Mason’s personality than he realizes at that moment. They come off so much more specific to this individual rather than the big events that we all go through growing up, yet it never loses that sense of universality. This could be anyone, a true slice of life. The truest maybe.
It is also probably the most unique look at parenthood I have ever seen. In fact, I would say it is more useful as a mediation on parenthood than it is on boyhood. Usually, movies about parenthood come from a more objective point of view. We know these people are human, and thus will inevitably err, but we also understand they have responsibility now. If they don’t learn a public service announcement by the end of the run time, then we might judge them on very general terms. Instead, we see these parents from Mason’s point of view. It is a more dynamic painting of character. Their flaws, blemishes, and downfalls become as important to Mason’s growth as his own personal experiences, and it takes the struggles parents face trying to steer impressionable young kids down the right path when they barely know better themselves very seriously.
Linklater has crafted a real winner out of Boyhood, one that can definitely weather the storm of a charm-challenged lead actor.