December 7, 2014
"Boyhood" is about Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his life as a 6 year old kid to an 18 years old college freshman. He has a sassy elder sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). We meet his mom Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and her string of unfortunate choices in men, and how they affected the kids. We see his occasional meetings over the years with their estranged dad Mason Sr.(Ethan Hawke) and his aimless life, until he remarried and had a new baby.
There are no really big events, no really big climax. This film is just an unfolding of a boy's life through primary school, middle school and high school, and the random things that happened to him and his family in those twelve years. We hear a lot of pop culture references as the timeline goes through the years, from Harry Potter to Twilight. In various episodes, we see Mason go through bullying, marijuana, alcohol, first love, sex, his passion for photography, among others.
It was Patricia Arquette who gets the prime acting moments in this film as the mom who goes literally through the wringer to bring up her two kids. Her final declaration before Mason went off to college is literally what all parents want to say at that time of their own lives. Ethan Hawke acts so naturally here as the happy-go-lucky father, as he always does.
Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater literally grow up 12 years in front of our very eyes within the 165 minute running time. Their acting was so natural as willful kids, though they became rather self-conscious as they grew up. My favorite moment with Coltrane is the episode when Mason was 10, about that radical haircut his stepfather had him take against his will. After that, Coltrane's Mason became more reserved and reticent.
I'm sure we all would have wanted more unique or memorable events to happen to Mason in this film, but that did not happen. Admit it or not, for most of us, life can really be a simple humdrum existence. Every so often we celebrate victories or mourn our losses, as Mason and his parents did in this film. But these are all considered minor in the bigger scheme of things, and we move on with our lives. "Boyhood" is as real a depiction of human life as it can possibly be. The story of our lives does not always have a distinct plot or a plot twist, but we go on living just the same.
Richard Linklater likes telling long stories. He is best known for writing and directing his "Before Sunrise" trilogy. That love story of Jesse and Celine was told in three films released nine years apart per film. Here in "Boyhood", Linklater tells a story that spans twelve years. This time, he actually took twelve years to film it (intermittently, of course). With that conceit, this is a literally epic piece of filmmaking in that sense. Do not be surprised to see this film land in the list of Oscar Best Picture nominees for this year. It will be there. 8/10.