Directed By: Richard Linklater
Written By: Richard Linklater
Twelve years is a long time to do just about anything. Hearing a movie took twelve years to make may cause you to wonder what on Earth went so poorly that such a delay occurred. In this case Boyhood director Richard Linklater purposely set out to make a marathon picture that would capture the precious gift of growing up. Unquestionably completing this project requires a great deal of patience from all involved, and is an incredible achievement within itself. The question then becomes does it go beyond that initial achievement or is it just an overblown gimmick?
To no surprise Boyhood emerges from its premise to tell a tale full of universal truths that deconstruct the way film tends to portray the process of life. This moving time capsule embodies the way we remember as well as the way we forget. How time moves too briskly to keep pace with, and how seemingly meaningless moments stick with us for our eternity. Even if the lives depicted on screen are nothing like your own you can find reflection in the intricate way it displays how humans relate to one another. Linklater accomplished exactly what he set out to do by constructing the ultimate coming of age film. Boyhood personifies the emotions we endure in life, and does so with a beautiful honesty that refuses to be bigger than the moment.
Linklater smartly does not try to tell some overarching story that slowly takes place over a twelve year period. It is like tearing out random pages of someone’s lifelong diary and making a movie around those instances. Never does it call attention to its own creation as we seamlessly move year to year. If you did not walk in with the prerequisite knowledge of how the movie was made you may have no idea that the boy we see in the beginning is the same person as the soon to be man that ends the film.
Ellar Coltrane was given the tough task of playing that role. Casting for a part like this is nothing more than a hypothetical guessing game. No one knows what type of actor or person Coltrane will grow up into, which works in the film’s favor in some ways. Uncertainty is the breeding ground of flexibility, and this allows Linklater to go into some unexpected directions. Uncertainty is also the breeding ground of failure. Coltrane starts off as a better actor than he finishes. Not once does he become detriment to the film, yet at no time is he a gigantic benefit. A more fully formed performance would have led to deeper exploration, but Coltrane does work as characterless window to this epic transformation.
Coltrane is surrounded by a mixture of amateur and veteran talent. Patricia Arquette stars as Coltrane’s mother and gives what may be the films best performance. She is someone who was brought into adulthood far too soon with the birth of her first child, who is played by Linklater’s very own daughter. With their father aloof somewhere in Alaska she is raising both of their kids alone and seeking for anything that can make her life complete. This leads her to make a number of bad choices including a marriage or two. Arquette’s character very much mirrors her own life of professional struggle, and that real world internal strife is key in making her so effecting. Her last scene is a powerhouse moment that is overbearing to witness.
Ethan Hawke is equally impressive as that aloof father, and probably has the best character arc of anyone involved. Having worked previously with Linklater on the Before series he can handle his talky style with ease. Some of the best moments are simple conversations between Hawke and Coltrane—a father trying to explain to his son that a blue whale is just as magical as elf, passing on vital information on how to talk to girls, and explaining they are not the family that will have simple polite conversations are some of the my personal favorite moments. It’s not Father Knows Best, its Father Knows Not That Much More Than You Do.
As is often the case with Linklater what you take away will greatly depend on your own story and background. Personally as someone greatly involved in the education field it was impossible not notice the constant barrage of people telling Coltrane what to do and how to act. How we require kids who are not even old enough to drive to somehow know what they want to be for the rest of their lives. When many of us are still trying to figure it out. These are by no means groundbreaking statements, but when they are seen through the perspective of someone you have literally grown up with they have a deeper meaning.
If you are not a fan of Linklater’s trademark existential dialog this may end up being a choir. There is a great deal of pontificating on life and our own existence that only intensify when we enter the teenage years. These might be some of the most enlightened teenagers depicted on-screen, yet their banter is never above their head. Hearing teenagers depict the ethical principles of deleting ones Facebook page might sound like a pretentious experience, but it falls in line with the natural evolution of these characters. Nothing is ever force to fit a certain perspective or plot point.
Part of that is due to how swiftly we move year to year. Small tidbits in conversations, adjustments and technology, and musical cues are the only indications of where we are at in time. Sometimes those tidbits are poorly executed and call far too much attention to themselves. Shoving a Lady Gaga video on-screen comes off as an unwarranted pop culture reference. Some references that at first feel forced actually pay off by the end of the film. Ethan Hawke playing a bleeding heart liberal who vehemently speaks out again the Bush administration comes off as heavy-handed political posturing. However, as the film progresses the initial heavy handiness lessens as it becomes evidence of how greatly we can change despite ourselves.
When you take away all the hype, all the anticipation, and all the press you are left with a small movie with extraordinary aspirations. Nearly every scene will spark a deep-rooted emotion from teeth clenching fear to heart breaking sorrow to the purest of pure joys. Boyhood can best be summed up with what will certainly become an infamous final shot, a clever homage to The Graduate that ends on a more optimistic note. As if saying the uncertainty that lays ahead is an opportunity not a curse. Boyhood is very much about the opportunity life gives us and callously takes away, and it itself is an opportunity to experience what happens when lofty goals are met with impeccable talent.