Posted on Monday, January 20th, 2014 by Peter Sciretta
Richard Linklater has truly created something special with his new film Boyhood — a remarkable, beautiful, cinematic achievement, like nothing you have ever seen before. Filmed over short periods from 2002 to 2013, the film chronicles a family over the course of 12 years, with the actors reprising their roles through the progression of time.
At the center of the story is Mason (Ellar Salmon), who with his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), makes the journey from childhood to adulthood. As the film begins, we see that they are living with their single mother (Patricia Arquette) and that their father (Ethan Hawke) has long since left the family. The film takes us through their evolving relationship with their mother and father over many years, moves, and life changes.
I don’t want to give away many specifics or plot points, and keep this as more of a reaction than review. After the jump you can read more or watch a video blog I recorded after the screening with Russ Fischer.
The film is almost like watching highlights from professionally filmed home videos that captured key moments over the course of a dozen years. It’s interesting because Linklater focuses scenes around the very mundane times and also particularly key moments in the life of this family. But even the mundane spots let us catch up on the big changes which are happening in the background and in-between times.
Linklater revealed that 4207 days had passed between their first day of shooting to the film’s premiere at Sundance 2014. I’ve been looking forward to this film for many years now and was worried that the result would be a very experimental film. I’m happy to report that the film is more than just a gimmick or experiment, its a fine movie about how our life’s are build and rebuilt and changed over the course of our formative years.
Its really interesting to see Salmon really grow as an actor throughout the movie. Smantha is played by Linklater’s daughter Lorelei Linklater and is fantastic in the film.
Boyhood is as much about adulthood as it is about childhood. We get to see the stories of Hawke and Arquette’s characters, always through the eyes of the children. We see the struggles of parenting, the challenges of sharing custody of the children, attempts at marriage and much more. Seeing the kids grow over the span of the film was cool but expected. I didn’t expect to marvel in the growth and changes of Hawke and Arquette over the course of the movie.
One thing that surprised me about Boyhood is that it is presented in an almost episodic format. We get a glimpse into points in the family’s life — sometimes it’s a day, sometimes a few days — before jumping forward in time. Sometimes the jumps skip over a long period of time, dropping us in a very different situation. At first this felt jarring to me, but it quickly occurred to me that real life is episodic and that this is probably the best way to present this story. And as with real life, the story doesn’t have a traditional story arc.
The movie has a running time of 2 hours and 44 minutes but even that length doesn’t feel daunting. Near the conclusion, I was hoping it wasn’t going to end — I wanted more. And who knows? We could eventually get more. I’d love to see Boyhood develop into something like Linklater’s Before series, and get to drop back in on these characters as they get older. But who knows if something like that could ever happen.
Boyhood, like most of Linklater’s films, features very natural dialogue and sometimes Before Sunset-style conversations (more adolescent in nature, of course).
Another thing that surprised me about this film is how its kind of a time capsule of the many years it chronicles. It’s a near-period film that spans a dozen years, and we get to see the music, technology, pop culture, and fashion evolve in the background of the story. At one funny moment, shot years ago, Hawke has a conversation with his son musing about whether there might ever be any more Star Wars films, post-prequels. They both agree there could be, but they would have to take place earlier because Return of the Jedi ended the saga. If only they knew.
I’ll be interested to see what the music is like in the completed film as the early cut we saw had many great songs that would likely cost a fortune in rights fees. (Linklater admitted after the screening that they haven’t cleared the songs yet.) The movie also makes great use of it’s Texas setting, showing the gun culture, importance of religion, and how politics engulfed the largely conservative state during the years between 9/11 and Bush to Obama.
Not only do Hawke, Arquette, Salmon and Linklater reprise their roles over the years of filming, but much like real life, other characters enter and leave and sometimes return over the years. Its pretty amazing how they were able to keep this continuity going.
Boyhood is a small epic. I’m excited to see this film again when its released, which is the highest compliment I can give it.
/Film Rating: 9 out of 10