Saturday, August 9, 2014

'Boyhood' review

Over a decade ago, Richard Linklater set out to make a film unlike any other. His plan was to film the same actors for the next twelve years to tell one massive, epic coming-of-age tale about the life of Mason, a young boy in Texas. By some miracle, that film was completed and earlier this year, it premiered to much adoration at Sundance. Boyhood, Linklater's awe-inspiring, organic masterpiece is one of, if not the, best film to be released in theaters this year. Few films have captured the beauty of life as well as Boyhood does. It's a simple film, with little narrative flash and little drama, but the weight of this film is enormous. You come away from Boyhood feeling invigorated, realizing just how amazing and special life is. It's an epic achievement and one that will surely not be forgotten any time soon.

Boyhood is a film without much of a traditional narrative arc. There's no real drama and it really plays as a series of scenes and conversations that took place during this time period of twelve years. Life doesn't really have a narrative story and that honestly is what's depicted in this film. In Boyhood, we witness the life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), a young Texas kid. He starts as an innocent child and then grows up to be an intelligent, successful young man. Along the way, he fights with his sister (Lorelei Linklater), bonds with his Dad (Ethan Hawke) and survives the two drunken husbands that his Mom (Patricia Arquette) marries along the way. He also experiments with drugs and alcohol and has his first real girlfriend during the film. It's an epic journey that makes for one of the most amazing films I've ever seen. 

When I first heard about Boyhood, I was excited because of the pure audacity of the project. It's definitely easy to understand why doing this project over twelve years appealed to Linklater and I knew that would make for an awesome experience. And it most certainly does. Linklater's goal as a filmmaker obviously is to capture life as authentically as possible. He definitely accomplishes his goal with this film. It's incredibly real and none of it feels overdone. It doesn't feel like a movie, but it most certainly doesn't feel like a documentary. Boyhood really is unlike anything else, especially in this aspect. The dialogue is also crisp and clean and very interesting. This movie wouldn't accomplish Linklater's goal if the characters and their conversations seemed fake, but it also wouldn't work if they felt improvised. Boyhood finds that happy medium and stays there for most of the film. 

The scenes in this film are quietly beautiful. Only a few focus on the dramatic moments of life. The rest are just everyday conversations, but they're so filmed so well and so subtly by Linklater. A scene where Mason talks to a school friend of his is really inconsequential, but it's filmed in one long, beautiful take and it gives such a deep insight into his personality and his life. The scenes in Boyhood could have been truly tedious, but all of them end up being very interesting and I was glued to my seat for most of the film's 2hr and 45 minute runtime. 

A lot was riding on young Ellar Coltrane in this film. Linklater couldn't have known about Coltrane's acting abilities ten years in the future, so he took a gamble for sure. And it definitely paid off. Coltrane is a very solid actor who dabbles in greatness at times. He captures the angst and the happiness of Mason and is able to do so many things with the role. It's not a flashy or overwhelmingly great performance, but I cared about Mason and I would have gladly watched his life for another several hours. By the end of this film, I was ready for a break, but if Linklater could have put in an intermission, I would have gladly watched another two hours. This movie is that good and that's a testament to both Linklater and Coltrane. 

The supporting cast is less prominent, but it's led by two stellar actors who give great performances. Patricia Arquette is truly spectacular as Mason's mother (she's just listed as Mom on IMDb and if she had a name in the movie, I don't remember it) and she carries the film early on. Arquette's character goes through so much crap during this movie and it's a very challenging role. She has a great scene at the end that really reveals the film's message and although I initially was unsure about the placement of the scene, I can't help but think of it's power and sadness at this point. 

I would love to see Ethan Hawke get an Oscar nomination for this film. His character starts as the stereotypical immature father who just wants to have fun with his kids and nothing else. But eventually, he evolves into something more than that. He grows to be a loving and caring father who is able to finally settle down and be the mature man that he couldn't for years. He grows just as Mason does and it's a terrific performance by Hawke. He is able to capture both sides of Mason Sr. and has terrific chemistry with Coltrane. 

Boyhood is, at its simplest, a series of scenes that amounts to a cohesive whole. Although there are many deeply rooted messages about life and the beauty of this journey we all go through, that previous description is really what this movie is. But man, some of those scenes are truly impressive. An early scene when Mason moves for the first time perfectly captures his first loss of innocence. Some of the scenes involving a drunken husband are truly terrifying. There's a great scene at a Texas ranch. The scenes with Mason and his father are stunning. The post-graduation is amazing. Mason's conversation with his Dad at a show after he graduates is truly touching. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. There are some amazing scenes in this movie. 

The real draw of this film and what makes it truly special is watching Mason grow over twelve years. The world of film has never seen anything like this before. Coming-of-age films have existed forever, but always with different actors playing the same character at various ages. This is something completely different and it allows the audience to develop a very strong connection to Mason. We see almost every facet of his life and over the film's lengthy runtime, we as audience members can end up truly feeling like we know him. The film becomes more assured as it goes along and it's quite spectacular. It's an amazing experience and it all culminates at the film's terrific post-graduation scene. That was when I truly realized the weight of what I had just watched. I realized at that point that I had literally watched someone grow up and it almost drove me to tears. You really feel like you've watched the lives of these people for the last twelve years and that's simply awesome. 

Like all great cinematic epics, Boyhood's only small problem is that it doesn't quite know how to wrap up. I don't think that Linklater wanted to let go of these characters and I don't blame him. I really wished that the film had cut out a few scenes near the end, but I understand why they weren't cut. They're great scenes, but I was tired and the emotional payoff had already happened and some of those scenes just felt like extra unneeded fat. It was good fat, but it was still fat. I also wish that Linklater had ended the film with Mason arriving at college. Instead, it ends with him getting high and going to a canyon with some of his new roommates. It was a weird way to end the film and I feel like we really didn't need to delve that far into Mason's next chapter. It just didn't need to happen. Once again, it's a good scene, but it's just unnecessary. 

Nonetheless, Boyhood is a practically perfect film and an even more stunning movie-going experience. Watching Mason grow up is incredible and thankfully, the great filmmaking technique is supported by great actors and great dialogue. This is an unforgettable film that is just so spectacular in so many aspects. There's a simple, poetic feel to this film that makes it feel natural and unforced and that's one of the great things about this film. It is truly unique and I will remember this film for the rest of my life. Simply a masterpiece. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  A+                                           (9.8/10)

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