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True-to-life events unfolding in Boyhood are sure to tug on the heartstrings.

Some films are so fit for the times and unique that it’s really hard to write about them, and I’ve reviewed two so far this year. I call these types of movies “Event” films: films that are released and turn heads just because they’re the type of film that is generation-defining. Maybe not that dramatic, but the importance can’t be overstated. Earlier, I reviewed the life-chronicling account of Roger Ebert, Life Itself, and now I have the pleasure/displeasure of talking about Richard Linklater’s new film, Boyhood. With filming spanning the course of 12 years, the film is a quintessential “day in the life” of one boy and all the pleasures and hardships he goes through while growing up. We watch a coming of age tale as a naïve boy grows to semi-mature male over the invisible 165-minute run time.

Sound familiar? That’s because we all lived it. As cheesy as that may sound, it can’t be overlooked when discussing the film. Boyhood has been described as an “epic,” and I agree. Not because of the huge, sprawling battles of an action film, but because of the multitude of little personal battles seen throughout. Each of these personal battles are quite real, all of which are completely relatable. Every single scene has something in it that makes the audience member think, “Hey, I’ve been there,” or, “Hey, I’ve experienced that,” be it in a good or bad light. It brings an almost overwhelming personal sense to viewing that lingers long after  most films. The idea of nostalgia is heavily instituted in this film, but in no way does it become something of a novelty.

While not the first movie to be shot over such a great length of time (Michael Apted’s Up saga does a similar task), never before have we seen something like this in one singular film. It makes perfect sense that Linklater is the one to do it. After all, he’s the same guy who tried a similar experiment over the past 20 years with his trilogy Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. While not perfect, Linklater clearly absorbed all the best ideas when filming that trilogy and applied them in an astonishing way for Boyhood. He also brought on one major player from the trilogy, Ethan Hawk, who co-wrote it all those years ago.

Relative newcomer Ellar Coltraine plays Mason, the case study in question who essentially lives his life with sister Samantha, played by Linklater’s daughter Lorelei, and unnamed mother and divorced father, played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawk, respectively. The plot here is minimal at best, with the idea of a young boy simply living life being the key focus. The trials and tribulations of a Hollywood plot come naturally with life, in both big and small forms. Throughout his life, Mason’s family goes through often relatable hardships in the realm of divorce and what problems that can cause for impressionable youth. Ethan Hawk’s character is an ex-rocker just trying to make it through the adult lifestyle while hoping to hold onto what made him so energetic in his past. Arquette’s character is a now-single mom trying to fight her way through motherhood and her own battles, and Mason is there to watch it all unfold. This is a movie that needs to be experienced fresh, so I’ll keep the plot simple. Life unfolds: some good comes into Mason’s life, some bad. Let it wash over you.



One thing that helps this monumental achievement from falling flat is that clichés could be everywhere in this film, but Linklater decides to tease them, not fall into them. That isn’t easy to do, as is evident by a good number of movies out these days. It’s refreshing to watch something happen that makes you think, “Oh, I know where this is going,” only for something else entirely to transpire. Each member of this family has his or her own demons that any member of any family can and has experienced, so while none of it is completely surprising, all of it is fresh. A divorced father can still be down on his luck without sacrificing who he is to his children. A mother, in contrary to our early beliefs, makes mistakes. Finding out what we want to do in life takes time and patience, but an effort must be made at the end of the day. There’s an organic sense of authenticity to everything that plays out, which gives the film a true fly-on-the-wall feeling that transports you into somebody’s life for it’s full run time without feeling boring. People grow up (literally and figuratively), but not everybody does it the same way. Some people find their way, others take longer to go down the right path. It’s this sense of random wandering through life that is so fascinating to watch on screen and really tugs at your heart in different ways to bring out memories of your own you may have forgotten. It’s an experience that must be seen, in the end.

The main pull of Boyhood is the way it was made. As mentioned, the filming took place over 12 years, so you watch as all actors age in that time. Mason himself goes from around six years old in the beginning to just entering college by the time the credits roll. Linklater structured the movie so that each age can be viewed as a chapter, and, while not each individual year is chronicled, you “jump” up the ages in chunks. What is refreshing is the lack of anything telling you time has progressed. No “THREE YEARS LATER,” no time-lapse of the seasons changing, just a new scene with an older cast. It’s nice to not be babied every once in a while, but of course make sure to be alert to the jumps.

Boyhood is [arguably] a masterpiece, but it’s not perfect. Certain minor characters’ mediocre acting is a good indicator that not everybody cast is an actor. One scene comes to mind that stands out above the rest as being very manufactured, so much so that it takes you out of the experience for a bit. It’s interesting to see if other filmgoers notice it and feel the same way, but it just feels so out of place it’s almost jarring. It is also interesting to see how people view Mason’s character going into college. We’ve all made personal life choices, be it in style, music, personality, and so forth, so it shouldn’t be a huge issue to most, but one common complaint is that he turns into an annoying person in the latter half of the movie. It’s hard to explain, but form a conclusion and compare.

It’s challenging to review Boyhood because every person experiencing it should have his or her own opinion of it after comparing the film to our own lives. Acting and that one scene aside, what you have is easily the most astonishing portrayal of an honest life ever put on screen. The act of literally watching people grow up in front of you is something that sticks with you for a long while. While some sticklers may be too critical of a few irksome choices to stay entranced, it’s easy to get lost in the experience and let such an unbelievable piece of film making show you that each person goes through life in the same way, albeit different paths, but in the end, finding and loving yourself is the most important path to take.

About The Author

Steve Carley

Steve Carley is a Michigan-born lover and resident of the film industry in Atlanta, Georgia. When he's not infiltrating the nearest Waffle House or giving up on the most recent movie-adapted book he can be seen lounging in his apartment complex's pool and regretting the way he wrote his Film Takeout bio.