Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" is an extraordinary filmmaking achievement in its ambition, scope and as an experiment in time and longevity through the telling of a family story filmed over the course of 12 years with all the same actors. But even more than that, it's a film of remarkable power and humility. The director who helmed the "Before" trilogy creates a lived-in feeling with these characters in their decade-long journey, and it permeates into a sensation for the audience that is indescribable and inescapable; it's the aura of watching something so true and real that you'll find yourself reflecting back on your own childhood and experiences growing up. It's by and far the best film so far this year and likely the best film of the year, period. And personally, it's the best I've seen in years and had me moved to tears of awe unlike anything in recent memory.
Newcomer Ellar Coltrane plays Mason, who begins the film at age six and ends at 17, and we watch him grow up right before our eyes. The moments through childhood into adolescence and young adulthood for Mason are both small and large, from playing mindless video games with friends to a camping trip with his dad to witnessing domestic abuse and graduating high school. Arguments could be made about individual scene inclusions full of seemingly arbitrary and insignificant moments, but that would be missing the point. Having watched everything in these lives unfold before us for two hours and 45 minutes, it becomes astounding, enthralling and overwhelming in its bigger picture breadth of emotion and resonance.
Cultural cues take us through the passing of time, and it clicks along seamlessly without any timestamp. The soundtrack, most notably, is keyed into each era perfectly and includes a fantastic use of Arcade Fire's "Deep Blue." As we go along, sometimes our only indicator is Mason's changing hair shifting back and forth between short and long as he goes from precocious kid to introspective teen. Spending too much time on his Nintendo 3DS, wondering why his girlfriend doesn't agree that "Tropic Thunder," "The Dark Knight" and "Pineapple Express" are the best three movies of the summer, attending a book launch party for the sixth "Harry Potter" and the bittersweet sibling relationship with sister Samantha (played by Linklater's daughter Lorelei) who admires Lady Gaga's "Telephone" video -- it's all part of the larger tapestry that gets weaved through a series of nearly non-events, about nothing more than watching this boy grow older, watching a life. And in that simplicity lies the film's greatest strength.
As much as "Boyhood" is about boyhood, it's also largely about motherhood and fatherhood. Ethan Hawke is the divorced dad whose eventual maturity was too little, too late to save his marriage. Later in life we see him with a second wife and a newborn; he's finally grown into the man Mason's mom expected him to be years ago. But that's not to say he's uncaring. He loves his kids and connects with him the best he can and bestows whatever knowledge he has onto a teenaged Mason about life, love and women. Patricia Arquette as Mason's mom is the film's rock and guiding light. She goes through two more divorces -- a parade of drunk assholes, as Mason recalls -- and seems to be just as in flux as her son, a smart and talented woman who happens to be still figuring things out nearly halfway through her lifetime. In a final moment as she watches Mason head off to school, the weight of everything that has come before crashes down on her in a devastating flash of midlife crisis.
Early Oscar buzz should be in the air and will hopefully carry into the season and not only for the film and its writer/director but for its actors, too. Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette all deliver nomination-worthy performances that are soulfully nuanced for over a decade. While Coltrane's older Mason stays relatively quiet around family, he opens up into philosophical musings with his girlfriend that cut into themes about connecting with others, the passage of time and wondering what it's all for. The final scene has Mason off at college, and a girl contemplates with him the meaning of the phrase "seize the moment." She asks, "Isn't it the other way around?" The moments are what seize you. And so they do. No other film captures an entire stretch of life's moments quite like Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" does. It's a masterpiece.