Boyhood has quite the premise, and going in I was certainly intrigued by how director Richard Linklater would take his twelve years of filming and edit that all down into one cohesive experience. And yes, for those of you that don’t know, this is a film that was shot over a period of twelve years, the end product allowing us to watch Mason actually grow up on screen. This is a film that doesn’t survive on a plot, but its characters, acting, and their journeys.
The film stars Ellar Coltrane as Mason, a boy living in Texas with his sister (Lorelei Linklater) and mother (Patricia Arquette). His father (Ethan Hawke) left them when Mason was younger than five, and is just now returning in hopes to rekindle his relationship with his children. From there, we experience the ups and downs of Mason’s childhood. Linklater, who wrote the script as well as directed, pens a simplistic, but very sincere story, one that most people will be able to relate to in some way. It’s the heart, and best part of the film.
The cast here, as vast as it is, works quite well. The main characters all do a good job in their roles. This primarily should be credited to Linklater, who took quite the risk in deciding to hire these actors, the most important being only five when filming began. Thankfully, none of them walked out on the project, died, or worsened as the film went on. If anything, across the board every character we see more than once improves upon each new scene they’re in, which makes the film even better the further into it you are.
Lee Daniel and Shane Kelly provide naturalistic cinematography, a smart move that doesn’t distract from the film’s primary focus: Mason. The simplest way I can explain Boyhood visually is it’s like watching a 90s Indie film, like an early work from Tarantino or Kevin Smith. The image is good, but not particularly memorable or striking, that being a good thing of course.
Boyhood’s soundtrack is quite good as well (seriously, world, stop raving about Guardians of the Galaxy as if you had never heard any of its songs). Linklater chose many top forty hits that we all recognize from our past. None of the songs hit their scenes too “on the nose,” but they all feel appropriate.
With all that’s good about Boyhood, I want to go back to what I feel is its biggest strength: the story. Boyhood presents a tale that with very little effort is able to take you back to a point in time when you were small with big eyes looking out into the world without fear.
Sadly, as touching as the story is, it is only touching because it forces me to reminisce about my own life, not because of the characters on screen. There were many scenes that had me thinking about growing up, but not about Mason himself growing up if that makes sense. It’s as if Boyhood’s marksmanship allowed it to hit a bulls-eye, jolting the gun back to hit itself in the face at the same time.
The film presents a lot of great moments that only add up to me swooning over my own experiences and memories. To be honest, I didn’t care much for Mason, who on paper has quite a dramatic childhood with many scary moments that felt real, thanks to how they were shot and cut together. But even in those scenes, did I really care about what was happening? Did I worry about Mason as he dealt with growing up? No, not really, and I’m not sure many people do either.
If you want to experience Boyhood, I absolutely recommend it. It is a film that will transport you back to your younger years with a big, goofy smile on your face. Beyond that, it is nothing more than a technical accomplishment with some good acting, particularly from Hawke.
I’m not saying that as a bad thing either. What Linklater and company accomplished with this film is astounding, and should be applauded as the end product as a good one with a story that wears its heart on its sleeve. But just because it accomplished something in one area does not mean I should applaud it in all others. I didn’t care much about Mason. I’m thankful there are other viewers that do. He needs the support going into college.
Content Guide for Boyhood
Violence – A drunk man throws glass at his children, a suggestion of physical abuse between a mother and father.
Sex – Characters discuss sex and contraception. Innuendo of Internet pornography.
Language – Infrequent use of strong language “F**k”, “s**t”, “p***y”, “c**k”, a middle finger.
Alcohol/Tobacco – One character is a dangerous alcoholic. Main character deals with peer pressure of drinking beer, experiments with drugs. One character dicusses how difficult it was for him to quit smoking.
+ Strong Direction + Talented Cast + Self-Reflective, personal story + Soundtrack
- Lack of empathy for characters - Some weak supporting performances
The Bottom Line
Boyhood is a sweet, fun film that's biggest strength is in reminding us of our own childhood. This leaves the film waving at us to care about its story (namely its main character, Mason) which, for the most part, I found myself not doing. And while Boyhood is a mixed bag, it still is a journey well worth taking, thanks to the many intriguing characters and memorable moments.