“Growing up is never easy. You hold onto things that were; you wonder what’s to come. . . . The thing is, we didn’t have to hate each other for getting older; we just had to forgive ourselves for growing up.”
-Kevin Arnold (The Wonder Years)
Never has ambition been mentioned more of a film than with Boyhood, a 12 year project filmed in chunks with the same actors. But being ambitious does not make a film great. Greatness has to be earned through vision and hard work. Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused) knows a little bit about both. Linklater has a filmography that could be categorized as odd or random. He has delved into comedy, sci-fi, romance, and drama. Short of horror, there isn’t much he hasn’t done, but with Boyhood he has achieved a unique cinematic experience unlike anything else before it.
Boyhood follows Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he grows from a six-year-old boy into an eighteen-year-old man. Linklater doesn’t pull punches. He covers almost every inch of a boy’s life during that time period. He also focuses on the mundane things that we so often write off. This gives the film a sense of realism and weight that I’m not sure it would have without the everyday life. Coltrane does a fine job acting, but this honestly isn’t about acting or narrative. What makes Coltrane’s performance meaningful is his consistency. It never feels as though he is acting, just merely being himself.
Boyhood has a great supporting cast. Patricia Arquette (True Romance) and Ethan Hawke (Before Midnight) portray Mason’s parents, and Lorelei Linklater stars as Samantha, Mason’s older sister. Just as Mason ages, so does the rest of the family, and with their growth in age comes an improvement in acting. The uneven acting is the only thing that hinders the near flawless film. Hawke plays an absent father who has the biggest and probably best character arc. He grows and learns from past mistakes, offering Mason equal examples of what to be and what not to be. Arquette’s turn as a struggling, faithful mother is at times heartbreaking, but is always honest.
In the end, the direction is what drives the film to greatness. Linklater has a deft way at making scenes and characters connect with the audience. He is also a master at using music to enhance a film. Much like Dazed and Confused, Boyhood utilizes pop culture and music to help the audience relate to situations and circumstances. Linklater seems to understand his audience better than most directors, perhaps because he directs from his own experiences. You can’t help but ache for Mason when his mother puts him in precarious positions because they seem so realistic. These are situations that maybe you or someone you know has been in. But just as you feel the pain, you also feel the joy.
Boyhood is a beautiful film that is full of heart. The passion Linklater pours onto the screen is a breath of fresh air. Even though the acting is at times stilted, the film surpasses its problems. The discipline and vision from the cast and crew make Boyhood an instant classic. It’s hard to think of a more relatable and heartfelt film.