Synopsis: Filmed over 12 years with the same cast, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a groundbreaking story of growing up as seen through the eyes of a child named Mason (a breakthrough performance by Ellar Coltrane), who literally grows up on screen before our eyes. Starring Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as Mason’s parents and newcomer Lorelei Linklater as his sister Samantha, Boyhood charts the rocky terrain of childhood like no other film has before. Snapshots of adolescence from road trips and family dinners to birthdays and graduations and all the moments in between become transcendent, set to a soundtrack spanning the years from Coldplay’s Yellow to Arcade Fire’s Deep Blue. Boyhood is both a nostalgic time capsule of the recent past and an ode to growing up and parenting. It’s impossible not to watch Mason and his family without thinking about our own journey.
Release Date: July 11, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG-13
With Boyhood, director Richard Linklater has not just set a new bar for coming-of-age films; he has pushed the cinematic medium as a whole forward. What, at a glance, might seem like an experimental film, is actually a moving portrait of a (fictional) family’s life chronicled over 12 years. It’s a story about growing up, about struggling to find yourself, about the many hardships life throws our way, and how every single moment shapes us. It’s a brilliant piece of film history, an unforgettable journey, and easily one of the best movies you’ll see all year.
Starting more than 12 years ago, Linklater conceived Boyhood as a unique experiment in filmmaking. He would rally up a small cast of actors every so often for more than a decade, and shoot scenes for his film. So, as each character is depicted as growing up in the film they are actually growing up in real life. That, in and of itself, is a concept worthy of attention, but it’s how Linklater uses Boyhood‘s plot to build a modern coming-of-age story that’s all the more impressive.
At the center of it all is Mason (Ellar Coltrane), the titular boy of our film. We meet Mason at age five and watch as he grows (literally in front of our eyes) to be an 18-year-old college freshman. Early on, Mason struggles to find direction from the main figures in his life, specifically his mother (Patricia Arquette), father (Ethan Hawke), and sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). His mother and father have separated and so his father becomes a source of worship for Mason early on, whereas the consistent parade of drunken, abusive boyfriends throws regular ruts into his relationship with his mother. We see that Mason’s mother is a hard-working single mother trying to get by and that his father is little more than a deadbeat, but Linklater smartly frames our perception of these characters through Mason’s distorted lens.
However, as the film progresses, we see Mason adapt to his surroundings and slowly develop as a young man. He begins to share a lot of the qualities of his father and even learns to respect his mother, while at the same time bouncing all over the teenage spectrum. At one point he’s a rebellious young teenager and the next he’s a more responsible adult – but whereas changes like that happen within the blink of an eye they now happen with a scene transition.
There are consistent through lines that connect each passing moment in Mason’s life, but putting together who he is at any given age is one of the film’s most appealing qualities. Linklater never gives the bullet point update that says what’s transpired since last we saw Mason and his family, but instead provides subtle visual and dialogue cues that suggest how the status quo has or hasn’t changed. Much like life, it’s only when you stop and think about where you’re at that you begin to understand where you came from. And eventually Mason starts to understand what type of man he wants to be, but we as an audience don’t know if he’ll ever get there. All we know is that the 5-year-old boy that opened the film is nowhere to be found in this 18-year-old adult.
At nearly 3 hours long, Boyhood feels like a journey – one that you’ll likely never have again. Richard Linklater’s cinematic experiment works only because his storytelling and writing are so strong, and it transcends the coming-of-age genre with one of the most authentic and earnest depictions of growing up. To find a cast so devoted to a subject matter must have been difficult, but Boyhood‘s major players are phenomenal throughout. But of course the highest praise should be directed at Ellar Coltrane for his willingness to share his physical transformation with the public world while at the same time trying to breathe life into the character of Mason. How, at such a young age, he is able to balance his real life insecurities with Mason’s is simply incredible, but that’s the film in a nutshell. Boyhood is the type of movie that has the highest aims and somehow achieves them all in a completely effortless way. We’ll likely never see anything like Boyhood again and that’s okay.
It goes without saying that Richard Linklater deserves all the praise for his work on Boyhood, easily his best work. His script never plays into the real time experiment and his filmmaking never draws attention to it either. Rather, Linklater lets the fiction become our reality as naturally as possible. Boyhood needed so many things to go right in order for it to be an overwhelming success – strong performances, an engaging story, solid filmmaking – and Linklater somehow did it all, but obviously not without a little help. On the one hand, Boyhood is a modern coming-of-age story highlighted by period specific music and design elements. But its themes are so timeless that most will connect with it 10, 20, or 30 years down the road. Growing up is a universal part of life, but it’s not so easily duplicated on screen, and yet Linklater made it look easy.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Richard Linklater
- Screenwriter(s): Richard Linklater
- Cast: Ellar Coltrane (Mason)Patricia Arquette (Mom)Ethan Hawke (Dad) Elijah Smith (Tommy)Lorelei Linklater (Samantha)
- Editor(s): Sandra Adair
- Cinematographer: Lee DanielShane F. Kelly
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA