Oscar Nominee Review: ‘Boyhood’

Previously Reviewed: The Theory of Everything The Imitation Game Birdman The Grand Budapest Hotel Selma American Sniper Whiplash

Director: Richard Linklater

Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater

Plot: Young Mason is a dreamy, artistic child who struggles to find his place in the world as he grows into adulthood, watching his family’s lives spiral around him.

Review: Linklater is something of an odd duck. Rather than through his all into traditional film-making he takes on lofty concepts, such as rotoscoping the entirety of Waking Life and A Scanner DarklyBoyhood is going to be best known for the scale of the production and the risks involved. Filming for a couple of weeks every year for twelve years is plenty ambitious, starting with Mason (Coltrane) as a seven year old and ending at 19, charting the boy’s life with the same actors ageing naturally. Unfortunately in the long run that’s likely all the film will be known for.


As amazing as the process was we are only here to examine the final product. Unfortunately the gaps in the production become all to apparent when strung together and the consistency of the performances and flow of the story suffers for it. During some parts of the movie the passing of time is not well expressed, with only Mason’s hair length being an indication that we’ve jumped ahead. Sometimes the transition is quite jarring, such as when new step-dad goes from a happy and welcome addition to Mason’s life, with gifts and happy times, to a full blown abusive alcoholic within about ten seconds of screen time. Life can take unexpected turns but this is a story, and a story has a purpose and a goal. This movie sometimes felt like they were making it up as they went along with characters and plot threads coming and going with variable impact on the overall arc. We wind up lurching forward in fits and bursts with lots of references to events that happened off camera with the protagonist being bounced back and forth by the events that unfold around him, peppered with references to pop-culture trends like Harry Potter.

Ellar Coltrance as Mason is pretty damn good though. Considering the immensely difficult circumstances of the job (having no concept of how this can impact on him when he got involved at 7) he does a remarkable job and carries the film well. The rest of the characters range is quality from the interesting Mason Sr. played by Ethan Hawke to the comically drunk evil step-dad to sways and slurs like he’s in a high school play. It is hard to work out what Mason’s place in the world is though. Sometimes he’s the brilliant young artist, beloved by women of all ages and sometimes he’s the victim of bullying by peers and a parade of adults who get up his arse about daydreaming sometimes. 


The script is the weakest link in this long winding chain, with shallow characterisations and hokey, unnatural dialogue. Given there’s a year between filming every scene you’d think they’d have more time to rehearse but some of the dialogue (in a movie driven almost entirely by dialogue) feels forced and dry. Some of it is perplexing, such as Mason’s father telling him that it was a huge mistake for him to get his wife pregnant at age 22, followed by them all having a chuckle about it. Did he just tell his son that he was a mistake? These uncomfortable moments make it hard to get into the movie and at 2 hours, 40 minutes it starts to feel like we’re sitting through the whole 12 years unedited before the rose tinted finale.

Rating: FOUR out of TEN

Chances of Winning: I’m gonna say it, this nomination is for the long term planning achievement more than anything else. Not good odds.