“The funny thing about the film is that nothing about Boyhood is narratively remarkable – all we’re watching is the growth and development of a boy and his family. Yet that’s precisely what makes Boyhood the incredible movie experience that it is.”
by Steve Pulaski

Nobody has made a film that so neatly and ambitiously worked to define and illustrate the complex gaps and tribulations the current (my) generation has worked to fill and occupy, but director Richard Linklater went ahead and made Boyhood, a film about those ideas anyway. In a spacious, contemplative, and mesmerizing film, near three hours in length, Linklater has managed to etch his themes of time and existentialism into the story of the growth and development of a young boy, from age six to age eighteen in suburban Texas.

Shot over the course of twelve years, using the same actors, Boyhood concerns Mason, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), and he’s a tad different than other boys. He spends less time talking and interacting with other boys and more time quiet, alone, and thinking to himself about thoughts we later see flourish when he’s a teenager. His mother is Olivia (Patricia Arquette), who kicks off one of many moves when Mason is six so that she can go to college, obtain a degree, and hopefully give her family a better life. Mason’s sister is Sam (Lorelei Linklater), who is a bit older and incredibly talkative, often causing a great disturbance to Mason. Mason’s father (Ethan Hawke) only appears every now and then, on count of the separation between him and Olivia, but when he shows up, he is sure to devote ample amounts of his time and energy to being a wonderful, loving father that Mason and Sam need.

Written & Directed by
Richard Linklater
Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke
Release Date
18 July 2014
Steve’s Grade: A+

The film cycles through many events, like Olivia’s second marriage to a drunken, abusive man, who is at the forefront of many heart wrenching scenes in the film, Mason’s first party, Mason’s first girlfriend, and so forth, but what’s more mesmerizing and fun to watch are Linklater’s attention to details. There are some things that are controlled devices when making a film like this, such as the talk about sex, the awkward moments, and the quibbles between parents and their children. But then there are little momentary pieces of time that show Boyhood as a product of its moment, like when we see Mason playing the Gameboy Advance SP, his Xbox, Mason, Sr. smoking in a restaurant, old logos of current products, the prominence of Harry Potter products, the old Verizon RAZR, and much more.

And let’s not forget Linklater’s devotion to showing those familiar moments that come to your mind faster than anything you learned in the classroom. I’m talking about camping with dad, peeing out a campfire, looking at a bra/underwear catalog behind the shed with buddies, watching internet porn with your buddies, those family gatherings that seem obligatory until you actually attend one, and so on. Linklater leaves no stone unturned when exploring Mason’s life, and thus making it one of the most captivating stories about a fictional life cinema has yet to see.

Boyhood also manages to showcase that awkward period between the old and the new, my generation has grown up with, where we were born without the prolific technology but have been overwhelmed by it in our teenage years. We see the progression of technology in Mason’s life, which serves as a very germane idea to Linklater’s inherent focus on time.

Linklater intimately shows how us Mason changes physically and emotionally, whether it be through closeups on his face when facial hair, along with acne, start to develop, longer conversations to show off his deeper voice, and more personal conversations to show off Mason’s unthinkable vocabulary and barrage of unique opinions.

The funny thing about the film is that nothing about Boyhood is narratively remarkable – all we’re watching is the growth and development of a boy and his family. Yet that’s precisely what makes Boyhood the incredible movie experience that it is. We’re watching life unfold and it’s just as beautiful as we can imagine, mainly because we’re seeing somebody else’s develop and one that will undoubtedly reach lives and make impacts on people.

The performances are touching all across the board. While Coltrane will inevitably get the recognition he rightfully deserves (for a performance which, what I believe, is just him playing himself at many different ages), Lorelei Linklater deserves credit as we see her develop with her character, going from a harmless girl, to a surly teenage girl, to a college girl with her own dreams. A key scene takes place when Olivia comes home to find her daughter and her friend in her room, angry that her daughter disobeyed her order to pick Mason up from school. Olivia’s scolding of her daughter and her daughter’s response to it, complete with nuanced eye-rolling and facial expressions, makes for one of the best scenes between a mother and daughter I have yet to see. Its realism is only a small part of my love for the scene – it’s the details Linklater continues to concern himself with that make the scene as real as real life.

Linklater has long-been fascinated with man’s relationship with time and the precious moments of life, from his earliest films of It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow By Reading Books and Slacker, to his more artsy work Waking Life, to his critically acclaimed Before trilogy. Here he manages to etch his fascination and commentary on the lives of a typical suburban family in such a way that feels incredibly natural and necessary. From Mason talking about college, to how he wants to spend his life, time is always a factor and one of the greatest human struggles is not being able to stop it in any way.

By the end of Boyhood, when college inevitably rolls around and Mason must depart his family to leave, I found myself crying quite heavily for a great length of time, but I didn’t feel sad. Nothing sad was occurring at that point in the film. Mason was just driving through desert Texas off to college following his wonderful high school graduation. This is where my personal feelings reach a crossroads with the “critic” I’m supposed to be. I’m in Mason’s same position right now in my life, and after spending so much time with a film character and watching what he has to go through, to see us both embark down similar roads touched me in incredible ways. Tears were the only outlet at that point.

What an incomparably audacious and beautiful film Boyhood is, to the point where one of my hardest struggles as a film critic comes in – praising too highly and in a hyperbolic manner to the point where I sound overbearing and exaggerated or praising too faintly and shortchanging the work of art at hand. Boyhood reiterates my belief that reality and naturalism can be just as immersing – if not, more-so – than fiction. For me, that truth has always been in play, as I gravitate to more films like Boyhood and Linklater’s Slacker than recent films like Maleficent. If there’s any film to show regular, ordinary life can be just as extraordinary as fantasy, here it is.