Sundance Movie Review: ‘Boyhood’

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Film: Boyhood
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater

Most great “coming of age” movies (Say Anything…, Almost Famous, you get the idea) are about a moment. Hell, you can even say that about the ones not directed by Cameron Crowe — from The 400 Blows to The Way Way Back. Boyhood, on the other hand, is an ambitious, 12-year journey from director Richard Linklater that doesn’t aim for a single moment. It captures every moment — because when you’re growing up, these moments are constant.

We’re first introduced to Mason (Ellar Coltrane) when he’s just 7 years old. His parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) have split, he hasn’t seen his father in over a year and his older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, Richard’s daughter) wakes him up each morning with her raucous interpretation of “Oops!… I Did It Again.”

Boyhood began filming in 2002, with Linklater reuniting the same actors for a few weeks every year to add another chapter to their story. Would the story have been as effective if he hired 3 or 4 different actors to play Mason at the various stages of his development? No. We’re literally watching him transform from boy to adolescent to young man right before our eyes, complete with every awkward body transformation and drastically changing hairstyle along the way.

Given that the film comes from the director of Dazed and Confused and School of Rock, it might seem a bit obvious to say the soundtrack is outstanding. But it’s worth mentioning because in Boyhood, the music takes on a life of its own. The film opens to the chords of Coldplay’s “Yellow” and every musical cue that follows provides a timeline to how much time has passed.

You’re immediately transported to the time and place where you first heard these songs. How many people had their first drunk and/or stoned makeout session while listening to Kings of Leon? And if you can find me a person who was able to escape Phoenix’s “1901” at any backyard kegger over the past few years, I’ll find you a hermit and a liar. Linklater mentioned after the screening that the soundtrack isn’t yet finalized so it’ll be interesting to see how many of these songs will need to be replaced, but it’s perfect as it stands. Linklater shot the film’s final scene in October and when the film screened at Sundance, the ending credits weren’t even finished.

Even if the film wasn’t great, I’d still view it as some sort of miracle, and that you never once feel the weight of the film’s runtime makes it all the more miraculous. When a child is 7 years old, you have no idea about the type of young man he’s going to turn into. What if Coltrane had turned into a bulked up 220 pound football stud? Would we still buy him as the son of Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette?

Fortunately, Coltrane becomes the sort of introspective, intellectual teenager that we could imagine growing into something resemblining Ethan Hawke’s character from the Before series. It’s difficult to discern how much of Mason’s character is made up of Coltrane’s own personality, but I’d venture to say it’s a lot. Linklater’s script had to be loose and easily adaptable to the development of Coltrane and his own daughter.

There’s a comfort level between the actors that can’t be built over the course of a few months, and that familial connection, especially between Hawke and Coltrane is wholly believable. IFC has been with the film since its inception, which means (yay!) a Criterion release is imminent. I just hope the studio will be able to give the film the sort of awards push it deserves come this time next year.

Arquette’s performance, in particular, is worthy of recognition as it’s as deep and multi-faceted as you’ll see. The film is called Boyhood, but Arquette is given her own arc from lonely divorcee to a driven career woman who goes back to school and becomes a confident college professor. Hawke undergoes a similar transformation as the type of fun, lovable guy who takes just a few years longer to grow into the responsibilities of fatherhood.

To experience Boyhood is to watch your entire youth pass before your eyes, complete with all the confusion, heartbreak and humorous moments that come with it. It’s one of the most rewarding films I’ve ever seen and I immediately felt compelled to experience it again, which is exactly what I did just a few days later and what I imagine I will continue to do for years to come.

Grade: A+

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