John Hanlon Reviews

Film Reviews


Genre: Drama, Comedy

Director: Richard Linklater

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

MPAA-Rating: R

Release Date: July 11th, 2014

To call Boyhood audacious is an understatement. Many who call it that are referring to the twelve years it took to make the movie. Not twelve years of paperwork and bureaucracy and getting the rights to the story but twelve years of actual film-making. The film was shot over the course of a dozen years, about it with the main actors returning to their roles once a year in an a grandiose attempt to capture one child’s fictional growth.

The word audacious, seek though, should refer to something more than the time span.

It should refer to director Richard Linklater’s immense attempt to capture the changes— physical, psychological and emotional— of growing up.

The year 2013 was a great one for movies about young people. The Spectacular Now told the story of a young man waving away his reckless ways and growing into an adult with the support of a forgiving girlfriend. The Way, Way Back focused its lens on a boy struggling to come out of his shell at a time when his mother’s boyfriend was emotionally hindering his growth. The Kings of Summer, meanwhile, focused on two best friends (and their mischievous ally) who escape their parents’ cloying neediness and build a house in the woods. Each of those 2013 films captured a specific time in the lives of these young characters.

Boyhood is different. It doesn’t attempt to capture one specific event in its protagonist Mason’s (Ellar Coltrane) young life. It tries to capture the whole thing, showing how Mason— along with his parents and his sibling—grew over the course of twelve years. It doesn’t show all of Mason’s birthdays along the way— who would remember all of them anyway?— but rather it depicts the small but beautiful moments that subtly but importantly defined his childhood.

The moment he paints over the height measurements in his mother’s home. The times he spends eating French fries and bonding with his often-absent father. The day he feigned sickness to avoid going to class because he didn’t like the haircut his vicious stepfather forced him to get.

When such moments occur, they are vividly important and burn themselves into Mason’s memories (as similar moments likely burned themselves into our own memories). These are small but integral moments that often foreshadow who we become as adults. Speaking of adults, Mason’s Mom (Patricia Arquette) and Dad (Ethan Hawke) are major players in Mason’s upbringing (as they should be) and as Mason grows, so do they.

Arquette, doing phenomenal work as a tough but vulnerable mother trying to get a better education for herself, makes many mistakes in her life but she’s constantly growing through them. Hawke has a smaller role but a clearer character arc, beginning the story as an absentee father unsure of his own place in life. Should he settle down? Is life on the road all that he wanted? Will his musical career ever pan out? He doesn’t know and in the course of the drama, there’s no one major moment when he decides who he wants to become. There’s no epiphany for his charming but seemingly-lost character. There’s just a sense that he’s slowly growing from being an immature and lackadaisical father to being one who offers a meaningful presence in its children’s lives.

In life, personality changes are subtle and we don’t see people change dramatically from one day to another but we know that they are changing. That’s what happens to Mason’s dad in the film and to all of the other major characters here. Over twelve years, they grow physically but more importantly, they grow as people and this film captures that subtle growth from the eyes of a boy, who slowly grows into a man.

Boyhood may have started as an experiment in film-making but in scene after scene, it— like the characters it depicts— grows into being so much more. It’s the best film of 2014.

Review by: John Hanlon