***1/2 out of ****
Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is one daring movie project. This really is unlike anything you’ve seen or will see for a very long time. I’m surprised something like this hasn’t already been tried by other career-directors with similar work stability. To interpret Linklater’s ambitions from previous films might prepare you for this movie’s narrative, which isn’t very interested in plot or storytelling. It’s about the aspects of life that we live but don’t often see in the movies.
His interests are existential. Scenes feel as though they may be a prelude to some moment of truth, tragedy or an affirmation of some kind. These things don’t happen –at least not for us to see. Life is happening to this film’s characters, whether they can find a defining moment or not. We are talking about a filmmaker with a very relaxed attitude, as an artist. Making a movie for twelve years may sound like a big deal (and it is) but the final result is, more often than not, an easy-going experience.
He started the project in 2002, probably around the time he was beginning work on Before Sunset –a sequel to his earlier romantic drama, Before Sunrise, which explored a similar idea: What do we get from revisiting fictional characters, especially when you allow the actors who play them to bring their own life experience to the roles as inspiration? While it may be staged, you’re capturing something that feels true. Boyhood is about a boy and his family, plain and simple. It may be about made-up characters but it has the same power as Michael Apted’s Seven-Up documentary series. Within this one movie, you watch a kid age from age seven to eighteen without having to suspend your disbelief. That’s good enough for me.
There will be a lot of arguments, as to whether the film’s lead, Ellar Coltrane, has given us a praise-worthy performance. He does manage to hold the movie together. It was an unquestionable gamble but I think he did what Linklater tries to get out of most of his players, which is to relax and be natural. Some of his best films don’t feature very skilled acting. Dazedand Confused comes to mind. I don’t need or expect realistic acting from his movies, just realistic situations.
The movie has a visually consistent look while showing us music and fashion trends, which come and go, among other things that make me feel old. We get to see Coltrane and his on-screen sister played by Lorelei Linklater (Richard’s daughter), attend a Harry Potter book release, in costume for the occasion. We also get hints of Star Wars fandom, of the prequel-based videogame generation. Yes, I’ve seen kids in my own life enjoying these things, but my point is that most of them are grown-up now. I’m reminded of what has fallen into the realm of common nostalgia. Maybe it’s time for me to take interest in World War II.
It is also amazing to see the parents in the film, portrayed by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, start off in their prime as sexy movie stars who will slowly age into what look like someone’s parents. It’s threatening.
Are you, whoever you are, going to like Boyhood? Among a few phony sounding exchanges in the lead character’s later years and the standard overused element found in a lot of Linklater philosophical dialogue “I was reading this article where…,” I would say that the movie does feel longer than it needs to be. I think that editor Sandra Adair had a big job that required a few more decisions to condense this project into a standard movie length. The goal was to take eleven years of footage and spend the last year making it into something that felt like a movie. The 165-minute cut I saw could have waited for blu-ray. My only warning, aside from the film’s deep artistic ambition which may alienate those who want to be entertained, is that it may bore some. On the other hand, it will fascinate too many others –myself included.