My most-anticipated film of the year! Richard Linklater already has five films in my top 150, so when he makes a film that gets virtually-unanimous four-star reviews, my expectations could not be higher. Not that I was worried. I knew Boyhood would get four stars from me before I watched a second of it – it just had to be. So while Boyhood did not exceed my expectations (almost impossible to do), it easily met them. Boyhood gets the predicted **** and will certainly be among my top ten films of the year (it’s even possible that Linklater will get number one two years in a row - again, Wow!).
Boyhood is an amazing film. Shot over a period of twelve years, using the same cast throughout, it follows the life of a typical boy in Texas from the age of six through eighteen as if it’s a documentary, aided by the incredibly natural acting and dialogue. But it’s not a documentary, and it has the gorgeous cinematography, perfect pacing, great acting, marvellous direction and helpful soundtrack to prove it.
Hollywood treats such epic stories as a series of melodramas. But while Linklater also carefully chooses (creates) the moments of Mason’s life which he wishes to reveal, and while they also represent the highs and lows of a sometimes stressful boyhood, there is little melodrama here (just a couple of scenes in a 163-minute film). It’s just day-to-day (or year-to-year, in this case) life.
What makes Boyhood special, however, is the way those chosen moments give us profound insights into the four main characters (Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane; his sister Samantha, played by Lorelei Linklater, who is Richard’s daughter; and Mason’s parents, Olivia, played by Patricia Arquette; and Mason Sr., played by Ethan Hawke) and how each of them views the life he or she is living. Because we spend twelve years with these characters, watching them grow and change, we care about them as if they are real. It’s an extraordinary achievement in filmmaking.
At the risk of giving too much away (minor spoiler alert), one example of the above is the way Olivia spends Mason’s boyhood trying to improve her situation and use the skills with which she has been gifted in a way that will give her life meaning. Despite some obvious successes with this, she seems unable to look back on her life in a positive way. Instead of embracing the precious moments her life has provided, she thinks primarily about the sacrifices and the drudgery. Others in her family see life differently.
Filming Boyhood over twelve years was an incredible risk on Linklater’s part, but it worked. The result is a masterpiece from a filmmaking genius who now has six films in my top 150. My mug is held high in salute.