Sunday, August 17, 2014

Movie Review: "Boyhood"

I'll admit, I was a little late to the party on Richard Linklater's trilogy of Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight, but when I finally saw all three I couldn't believe I had missed them all these years. So needless to say, I didn't want to let another Linklater movie pass me by. And after seeing Boyhood, I can honestly say I am so glad I saw it.

Boyhood is the story about a young boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane) growing up in Texas. When the movie begins in 2002 he's a mischievous, easily distracted six-year-old, mostly behaving the way typical six-year-olds do: taking every risk imaginable, simultaneously being terrorized by and terrorizing his older sister (Lorelai Linklater), ogling the lingerie section of a store catalogue with a friend.

Mason is also a sensitive dreamer, one who does all of his homework but doesn't turn it in because the teacher doesn't explicitly ask for it. He and his sister live with their mother (Patricia Arquette), who is tired of struggling to make ends meet for her family and wants to go back to school so she can make something of her life. When they move to Houston, the kids get a visit from their less-than-present father (Ethan Hawke), a man-child who desperately wants to be a part of his children's lives but he isn't so sure he's ready for the responsibility.

The movie follows Mason as he grows up, but in case you weren't aware, Linklater did something absolutely fascinating in making this film: instead of using other actors to play Mason and his sister as they grew, Linklater filmed this over the course of 12 years, gathering his actors together once a year or so to mark progress and see where the year has taken the characters. It's an absolutely mesmerizing tactic that gets you more invested in the characters and the story than perhaps any other movie, because you're actually watching them grow and change, essentially in front of your eyes.

Although I watched Boyhood with a bit of trepidation, waiting for the moment that everything would fall apart for the characters (and there are a few times I felt sure it would), this is a movie that for the most part doesn't lay on the drama but instead revels in the conversations of Mason's life—with his father talking about the future of the Star Wars franchise while on a camping trip; with one of his high school teachers, desperate to light a fire under him; with a girlfriend, espousing his philosophies of life; and with his mother as he prepares to leave for college. The dialogue and the situations ring true, and the fact that we've seen these actors grow makes them all the more real.

With a running time of two hours and forty-two minutes, you're probably wondering if a movie that's a snapshot of a "real" life could hold your attention. It absolutely does, mainly because the performances are so riveting. Coltrane is truly a find; I can only wonder if Richard Linklater truly realized early on just what an old soul Coltrane was as a child, and how that quality would bring such weight to his performance as a teenager. Linklater's daughter Lorelai transforms into so much more than the bratty, overly dramatic older sister, and I only wished for the opportunity to see more of her. Arquette has a meatier role than Hawke, but both bring toughness and vulnerability to their performances as they navigate life's ups and downs.

I can't recommend this movie enough—although I'll pay it forward, much as my friends did, and warn you to hit the restroom before the movie begins. Much like an excellent short story or novel, I'm left wondering what happened to Mason and his family once the camera stopped rolling. And that, for me, is the mark of excellence—to care enough about the characters you can't stop thinking about them.

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