Writer/director Richard Linklater certainly deserves credit for pulling off an audacious experiment. Filmed over 12 years using the same actors (child and adult), “Boyhood” is a coming-of-age drama unlike anything we’ve seen before. Respect all around. Hats off. The movie itself, though, has to be judged on the final product — and it’s good not great.
“Boyhood” opens in 2002. Mason Evans, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) is the six-year-old product of a broken home. Other than old wounds, his parents, Mason Sr. and Olivia (Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette), feel nothing for one another. Until now, Mason Sr. has been mostly absent from the lives of his children. He promises to do better.
As a single mother working a dead end job, Olivia is barely holding on. She also promises to do better, and starts by dumping her jerk of a boyfriend, quitting her job, and moving in with family in order to attend college.
As the years pass, over nearly 3 hours we watch Mason and his older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) grow into young adults before our very eyes. There is no over-arching story to “Boyhood.” This is a character study built with slice-of-life vignettes. Wisely, Linklater doesn’t point to his gimmick. One scene merely leads to another. The editing and cinematography are so impressively consistent, sometimes you’re not even sure if a year or two has passed.
We watch Mason discover girls, dabble in drugs and alcohol, fall in love, have his heart broken, deal with his mom’s lousy choice in men, and develop a touching friendship with a complicated dad who eventually matures into the kind of man who does keep his promise to do better.
There’s a lot to like about “Boyhood.” You’ll be glad to know the story avoids sleaze, despite the subject matter it sometimes touches on. The early Bush-bashing (by Hawke’s character) ends up being not at all political. If anything, Linklater uses elder Mason’s fervent Obama support as a sign of his immaturity. Before it’s over the film will ruthlessly mock an Obama supporter and portray a Christian, Bible-giving, churchgoing, gun-loving couple in the most generous way imaginable.
The characters feel real and are fully explored. The relationships feel real. Although Arquette is a stand-out, the performances are all top-notch.
“Boyhood” is just too long and even a bit pointless. Near the end of the film, as Mason Jr. packs for college and she takes a quick inventory of her life, Olivia says, “I just thought there would be more.” She’s not alone.
“Boyhood” is certainly worth a look and emotionally moving in spots. As a technical and directorial achievement, much praise is deserved. As a movie, though, the critical praise is wildly overblown. Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused” feels just as real and is much more entertaining and insightful.
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