Starring Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Jenni Tooley, Zoe Graham, Marco Perella, Brad Hawkins, Charlie Sexton, Tom McTigue, Richard Robichaux, Evie Thompson, Jamie Howard, Andrew Villarreal, Richard Jones, Karen Jones, Libby Villari, Jessi Mechler, Steven Prince, Elijah Smith, Cambell Westmoreland, Tamara Jolaine, Barbara Chisholm, Cassidy Johnson, Jennifer Griffin, Jordan Howard, Nick Krause, Angela Rawna, Roland Ruiz, Bill Wise, Maximillian McNamara and Taylor Weaver.
Screenplay by Richard Linklater
Directed by Richard Linklater
Distributed by IFC Films. 164 minutes. Rated R.
Together Richard Linklater and star Ethan Hawke have put together one of the most profound examples of cinematic anthropology – the Before Sunset series of films, in which a couple is revisited every nine years in a 20-year (so far…) stretch to see how two lives have changed over the passing of time.
Boyhood can’t exactly be said to have eclipsed that series, just because those three films are so amazingly good that very little could hope to surpass them. However, with Boyhood, Linklater has created a vision of time passage and real life that is every bit as powerful. And, once again, Hawke is along for the ride.
Boyhood was filmed over a period of 39 days, but those 39 days were spread out over a period of 12 years. Every year the cast and crew would get together for three or four days to film a bit of the life of a young Texas boy Mason (Ellar Coltrane), his sister Samantha (the director’s daughter, Lorelei Linklater) and his estranged parents Olivia and Mason, Sr. (Patricia Arquette and Hawke).
Therefore, in a technique that is both awe-inspiring and often shocking, we are able to watch a young boy age from first grade to his freshman year of college in the period of just under three hours. It’s like an odd time-lapsed photography (or looking through other people’s photo albums) as we see the little boy lose his cute toe-headed good looks and morph into a slightly morose but sensitive young man.
Not insanely much happens in Boyhood from a plot standpoint. Just the basics: school, first love, parents, divorces, marriage, moves, experimentation, babies, video games, new cars, new friends, new Harry Potter books, leaving things behind, camping, bowling, successes, mistakes, leaving the nest. You know, just life itself.
Actually, the film may be slightly mistitled as Boyhood. Perhaps Childhood would be more apt. For at least the first half of the film, Mason’s precociously cute sister Samantha probably gets more screen time than her introspective little brother. It’s only when the situations of her life cause her to blossom into a shy, slightly-guarded teen that Mason’s story starts to take over and she fades a bit into the background.
None of this would work, of course, if we just had some Hollywood kid actor emoting for the camera. Coltrane is just a normal Texas kid playing a normal Texas kid, without any pretension or precociousness. Luckily he turned out to be a pretty natural film presence, or the film would never have worked. Lorelei Linklater is also a fine talent. She tries a bit too hard as a little girl (including doing an entire hammy performance of Britney Spears’ “Oops! I Did It Again!”), but she grows into a quiet and profound actress.
Hawke has always done his best work with director Linklater (they have done eight films together at this point, including all three Before Sunrise films) and once again his favorite director brings out the finest in Hawke. His character of Mason Sr. grows astoundingly over the period of 12 years, from rootless and responsibility-free musician to dedicated family man.
Thankfully, Boyhood does not take the easy road of making Mason, Sr. a deadbeat dad. He is just a lost artistic soul who takes a little longer to grow up. And even at the worst of times, he is always there for his children, and even to a certain extent for his ex-wife.
Speaking of the ex-wife, of all of the wonderful acting on display here, the standout is Patricia Arquette as the mother. Arquette’s acting profile has dimmed as she has gotten older, and frankly she’s been mostly missing in action since her TV series Medium was canceled a few years ago. However, this stunning, layered performance is a reminder of just how much she is missed. Olivia is imperfect, she is sometimes distant and she turns out to have terrible taste in men, but she is a passionate and loving mother.
If the scene where Olivia breaks down as her son is leaving for college doesn’t wrench your heart, you really have none. “I just thought there would be more,” she rues, tears streaming, and every person in the audience can’t help but nod in recognition. Arquette’s performance is Oscar-worthy, and I hope this film is not forgotten by the time the ballots for Best Supporting Actress are cast early next year.
That statement is not just for Arquette, either. Boyhood is arguably the finest film of the year so far, and it will be a crime if it is ignored come Academy Awards time.
Jay S. Jacobs