Review: Richard Linklater’s 12-year project “Boyhood”

January 28, 2014 : 9:19 pm | by Aaron Levy

Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as a five or six year old boy

Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as a five or six year old boy

Few directors have come to be known and associated with a place and culture the way Richard Linklater has with Austin. Since releasing “Slacker” at Sundance in 1991, following it up with “Dazed and Confused” in 1993 and “Waking Life” in 2001 as well as founding the Austin Film Society, the director has helped to create a culture that still permeates the city to this day.

This year at Sundance, Linklater released his most recent effort, “Boyhood.” Although it was submitted too late to be included in competition, I daresay it would have had a very good chance at winning the audience or Grand Jury award in the U.S. Dramatic category. It has been 3 days since I saw the film and the sense that it may be one of the best and most near-perfect films I have ever seen remains.

“Boyhood” was a massive undertaking that involved shooting scenes with the same actors over the course of 12 years between 2002 and 2013. We watch and listen as Mason (Ellar Coltrane) goes from being a six year-old kid who shares a bunk-bed with his sister to a long-haired photographer leaving home for college. Supported by his mother (Patricia Arquette) and father (Ethan Hawke), Mason matures and learns about girls, alcohol, drugs, his parents’ complicated relationship, abusive stepfathers and how relationships change but, at the end of the day, life goes on.

As Matt Patches correctly pointed out for Vanity Fair, Linklater is a master of making films that are engaging without any artifice. He lets the characters operate organically without pulling any puppeteer strings. Personally, I think this is because he is the greatest cinematic dialogue writer of all time. The conversations in “Boyhood,” like “Slacker,” are casual and indirect but eventually find their way to life’s big questions and those are the films best moments. At other tense moments, Linklater noticeably plays with the audience’s expectations for a tragedy or life-hinging moment that we expect from a nearly three hour movie. When Mason plays with construction equipment in the woods with his young friends or is passed a phone to look at while driving, we temporarily hold our breath. But, like childhood for the majority of us, things just work out. Other charming and slightly ironic moments include watching Mason play Oregon Trail and debate with his father about the possibility of future Star Wars movies.

Watching a character develop from a boy into a man is something that no other film has done the way this movie does. Everything in his world changes: friends, home, syblings and yeah, everything, except himself. He changes physically but is noticeably the same kid throughout the 12 years. I found myself tearing up at random intervals throughout the movie without quite knowing why.

The movie was filmed in and around Austin, Texas and thus struck a chord within me that no other film has every found. My parents never divorced but I saw myself in the character on a level I never have before. Linklater knows how to capture a place and time and did just that. He did it 12 different times in the course of one movie.

This film was my #1 pick for the entire festival. I encourage you to see it when IFC Films releases it later this year.

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