Boyhood (2014)

Final Rating: 9.4/10

NXNE starts off its festival with a film portion that is comprised mostly of documentaries. Although it is a fictitious story, Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood is as much of a documentary as any of the other films shown, if not more so. We get a story written by Linklater but we also get a real depiction of the years of adolescence in the United States of America. This movie is special because it not only tells a story of maturation over a twelve year period, it was literally shot over twelve years. We see people actually age before our eyes without other actors or make up jobs to create illusions. We follow the main four actors, played by Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Lorelai Linklater and Ethan Hawke, through many family concerns, realizations about life (for the children and adults alike) and moments of bonding. A day after having seen the movie, it is still unclear as to how this movie was even put together. Did Linklater shoot many hours worth of material and tape together the parts that fit the most as a whole, or did he have everything planned to be shown as is this whole time? Many movies try to mimic the sensation we experience as human beings where we will find a connection between things we experience in life. This often appears strategically put together. It took a film like Boyhood and twelve years of hard work from many to finally achieve this affect in its truest form.

So the desired experiment was conducted. Was it a success? Of course, as the film was made. The most important thought that follows immediately afterwards is whether or not this project was good. Linklater didn’t just focus on getting the job done, but he worked so hard on making it worthwhile that the film is strung together with so many subtle nuances that almost every new scene is a moment where your eyes may start to water. You’ll see an event in the movie and then you’ll see a photograph of that event in the background much later on. To know that that photograph actually aged and literally captured that moment in both the film and real life is such a small but earth shattering realization. That is the most miniscule example of the power this film possesses as well. The entire soundtrack is made up of songs that fit each year and Mason’s (Ellar Coltrane) personal tastes. We start off with material like Blink-182’s music from Take Off Your Pants and Jacket and get The Suburbs’ era Arcade Fire near the end. We see an evolution in technology, ranging from the many kinds of Apple products (computer, iPod and phone) and their evolutions to video games. We see Mason playing Halo on the Xbox, and at the time of production the game probably looked like a digital breakthrough. To us twelve years later, we notice how dated the game looks. The movie never tried to make the game look dated, either, as it was filmed right when it came out. We don’t need action to make these near-three hours go by; Not when we have both nostalgia and astonishment to tug us by the arm in virtually every scene.

We have Arquette and Hawke putting on performances we’d expect from them. Arquette is extremely real and feels like that mother figure that goes from a time-out giving meanie to being the person we are scared to leave behind once we leave for college. She never changes her character, either. She’s the same person the entire film, so it makes the later parts of the film all the harder to deal with. We go from seeing her all of the time to not seeing much of her at all, and that’s because Mason’s getting out into the real world more. With the many tribulations her character goes through in the film, to see her victories (whether it be through her kids or her lectures) is such a rewarding experience. Hawke’s character is the father that doesn’t always get a chance to see his children, so we don’t really see Hawke as often as you’d imagine. When we do see him, though, he makes it all worthwhile. His evolution may be the saddest in the entire movie, as we see that dad that many kids would brag about for being the coolest dad in town turn into just a father. However, this is a good thing as he has become a stronger member of society and has gone further with his successes. He’s left his immaturity behind. It just hits the hardest because we see his son become the badass Hawke once was and we know his son, too, will one day become an even better person once he discovers his role as an important figure (just like his father did). These parents evolve so well during the film, and the children, new to acting when they first started shooting the movie, progress in such a different way. Coltrane is shy at first and really quiet with his actions on screen. As the movie goes on and Coltrane gets more comfortable with the movie and himself, his character really begins to shine. Linklater as Mason’s older sister is always Mason’s older sister. At a young age, she teases him and sings pop songs often. In her teens, she dyes her hair and has an attitude. When she’s an adult, she’s always there for Mason despite always seeing him as a younger brother.

There is much more to the movie than just seeing people age. We get confrontational moments involving alcohol abuse, sexual discovery and heartbreak. Even if these moments are short, they are pivotal for the entire movie. We see Mason only get threatened once by kids at school, and the rest of the movie he’s reserved and soft spoken. We see alcohol being the root of evil, and suddenly just seeing a beer can on screen is worrisome. We also get a number of jokes that only work because of how ironic they are. We see Hawke and Coltrane talk about Star Wars back in roughly 2008 and wonder what it would be like if they ever made a new film. Lo and behold, it is 2014 and a new Star Wars film is being made. There is no way Linklater knew that there would be a new Star Wars film, but that accidental joke made the entire audience erupt in laughter.

This time capsule will make you laugh over the changes in style, the predictions of the future (or the now, for us) and our own childhoods. The most interesting aspect of this project is that none of the footage looks older or newer than the rest. Linklater somehow made the entire film look consistent in quality, and it adds so much magic to the already astounding film. He achieves shots I cannot even solve (how on Earth was that baseball scene shot with the characters clearly watching this monumental game?). The movie doesn’t work with a set in stone plot but rather an overarching message that we get at the very last scene as the movie abruptly ends. It ends quickly but it ends at the right time in Mason’s life. There’s a reason why Mason is obsessed with photography, why his sister clings onto pop culture, why his mother repeatedly tries to find love and why his father begs to know what it means to be a father. It’s the same reason why Richard Linklater created, sweated over and believed in this project. Life is about the now but it’s also about the entire picture. We may have had films like Avatar and Gravity show us the future of movies visually, but now we have Boyhood’s highly raised bar for character development in films.

About author

Former Film Editor & Music Writer at Live in Limbo. Co-host of the Capsule Podcast. A Greek/South African film enthusiast. He has recently earned a BFA honours degree in Cinema Studies at York University. He is also heavily into music, as he can play a number of instruments and was even in a few bands. He writes about both films and music constantly. You should follow him on Twitter @Andreasbabs.