Richard Linklater’s Boyhood
is everything it’s been cracked up to be: an altogether extraordinary,
one-of-a-kind endeavor that represents American filmmaking at its best. Chronicling
the unpredictable path of a Texas boy’s life from the ages of 6 to 18 (along
with the other members of his family), it eschews cliché and melodrama to
explore the ups and downs of an ordinary life, dotted with dreams and
disappointments. In a remarkable casting coup, Ellar Coltrane as Mason commands
our attention from start to finish.
There are moments in the film when, conditioned by Hollywood
movies, I expected an accident to take place. That’s what might have happened
in a conventional film, but Linklater isn’t interested in that kind of
bullet-point storytelling. He wants to explore the inherent drama in everyday
life: the trials of a single parent, the awkwardness of being the new kid in
school, the trauma of living with an alcoholic, an adolescent’s search for
identity, and so much more. The arc of the story is incredibly ambitious, which
only sinks in when the film is over and you realize how much ground you’ve
covered. The emotional aftershock is daunting. (I know how I felt, as a parent,
wiping a tear from my eye; I can only guess how a younger person might react.)
What could have been merely a gimmick—watching a boy grow
up, year by year—is instead the inspiration for a rich and sharp-eyed movie that
is seamless and organic. We’re never aware of Linklater’s camera or its
ubiquitous presence: everything we see seems genuine and spontaneous, from
Mason’s back-seat squabbles with his sister, when they’re young and
rambunctious, to his extreme discomfort when a barber shears off his stylish long
hair. There isn’t a false note in the picture.
Despite its title, Linklater’s screenplay is as much about Mason’s
mother (Patricia Arquette), who struggles to make something of herself, his
biological father (Ethan Hawke), who’s determined to make up for his long
absence and be a presence in his children’s lives, and his older sister (played
by the filmmaker’s daughter Lorelei Linklater), who faces the same series of
familial disruptions as her sibling.
But there’s no denying that Ellar Coltrane dominates the
film as Mason. He’s a daydreamer at age 6 and a reluctant student in his teens:
his thoughts and passions lie outside the classroom. He’s a natural
nonconformist and we get to witness how this trait blossoms in him as he
becomes a true individual. We also see the price he pays.
How many movies dare to address the Big Issues of life
through the prism of ordinary events? How many filmmakers would try to take on
so much in a single film? Linklater has long since earned his reputation as an
original thinker, but this achievement is in a class by itself.
Boyhood is a uniquely