The idea itself isn’t a revolutionary one. I think it’s come to all of us at one point or another. “Why doesn’t someone film a life?” To see a person grow on camera, and not satirically in some “Truman Show”-like charade. A true, unadulterated coming-of-age story – literal, and more importantly, applicable. While it may not adhere strictly to your own personal fantasy, BOYHOOD is that film.
Whether you know it or not, you’ve seen a Richard Linklater film. Be it the cult-famous SLACKER or DAZED & CONFUSED, the rotoscopic WAKING LIFE or A SCANNER DARKLY, or his easy, modern comedies THE SCHOOL OF ROCK or the BAD NEWS BEARS remake, you’ve seen at least one. If not, I don’t know why you’re reading a film review. All the while, and unbeknownst to most of us, Linklater had been quietly collecting and compiling the footage that would become BOYHOOD over a period of 11 years. In 2002, Linklater cast a remarkably dedicated Ellar Coltrane as the film’s centerpiece, Mason. Also dedicated to the lofty project were Ethan Hawke (who collaborated with Linklater on his Before Trilogy) and Patricia Arquette (Stigmata), who play Mason’s divorced parents. As for the role of Mason’s older sister, Samantha, Linklater made access a little easier on himself by casting his daughter, Lorelei, who didn’t do half-bad (typically, I have trouble with child actors).
Over the film’s 12-year span, we follow Mason from childhood all the way up until his first day of college. While the story itself is fictional, the growth is real, and Linklater vowed to “adapt the story to whatever he [Coltrane] was going through.” Linklater and the cast have stated that script rewrites often occurred the night before filming had to be done. Because of this, I expected the film to be rather episodic – snapshots of a life, but with no real narrative thread. I was pleasantly surprised to find just how much story BOYHOOD has to offer. Linklater certainly infused it with details of his own childhood, such as its Texas setting and mother Olivia’s revolving door of drinking husbands. Mason turns out maybe a little too conveniently aloof & alternative, with an interest in photography and an aversion to the notion of an established path. Just how much Linklater’s personal history influenced Mason’s character, I can’t say, but I can say that if there was a nudge toward the artistic, it was probably for the best. Nobody wants to see the movie that follows a bully to lacrosse practice.
Save for a handful of dramatic scenes, I couldn’t wipe the stupid grin from my face during BOYHOOD. There is an undeniable charm to it, to Mason, to seeing these actual people growing and changing. As Mason Sr. (Hawke) tries to pry the name of Samantha’s first boyfriend out of her at the roller rink, you can’t help but crack a smile. Or when she wakes up Mason with an obnoxious rendition of Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time” – the scenes play like intimate memories, and as a viewer, you can’t help but feel lucky to be there. Linklater nails the pop culture references, of which there are many – my personal favorites being a close-up of Mason playing Oregon Trail, and then, years later, a Gameboy (well, a Gameboy Advance SP, actually). Linklater also made sure that the soundtrack represented the popular music of the years depicted, from Coldplay’s “Yellow” all the way up to Arcade Fire and Gotye.
The praise that BOYHOOD is receiving is undoubtedly deserved, but unfortunately overblown. At 2 hours and 45 minutes, it can’t help but drag and make you yearn for something more to happen. In all honesty, I was half-expecting a car accident around every corner. The film does have its moments of drama and upheaval, but it altogether avoids tragedy. While this lack of catastrophe may render the film a bit more relatable, it also leaves it devoid of climax. Furthermore, I must note that I have seen several reviewers refer to BOYHOOD in some way or another as the most accurate depiction of life as a Millennial. This is inherently wrong until it is qualified. Instead, BOYHOOD is an impressively accurate representation of life as a straight, white, male Millennial.
Generally, BOYHOOD hits the mark. It should certainly be lauded for its scope, and yes, a very strong argument could be made for Linklater deserving Best Director simply because it didn’t turn out a complete mess. But BOYHOOD does not deliver the awe that some will lead you to believe it does. At times, it crawls, and its (literally) half-baked ending may leave you frustrated – I know I was.