Review – Boyhood

Long hijacked – and cheapened – by the marketing spiel of a multitude of schlocky blockbusters, the true meaning of the word ‘epic’ is hereby reclaimed by this modern masterpiece that’s as grand in its ambition as it is intimate in its emotional spirit.

Linklater's masterpiece is a film that will become regarded as one of the defining pieces of cinema of this decade. To borrow the title of the late Roger Ebert's autobiography, Boyhood is simply 'life itself'

Linklater’s masterpiece is a film that will become regarded as one of the defining pieces of cinema of this decade. To borrow the title of the late Roger Ebert’s autobiography, Boyhood is simply ‘life itself’

The most beautifully simple concepts are often the best and the 12-year project that led to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is sublime and unique indeed.

Setting aside the hoo-ha over the film’s time-spanning audaciousness, however, Boyhood must still be judged for what it is – a film. And what a film it is; not just a powerful and enrapturing coming-of-age drama, but also a remarkable portrait of America seen through the eyes of a boy, his sister and estranged parents living through a tumultuous decade.

Mason Jnr (Ellar Coltrane) aged six with his mom Olivia (Patricia Arquette) in Boyhood

Mason Jnr (Ellar Coltrane) aged six with his mom Olivia (Patricia Arquette) in Boyhood

The film follows the trials and tribulations of Mason Jr (Ellar Coltrane) as he matures from a six-year-old boy, through adolescence to the age of 18 as he leaves for college and an independent life. Along the way he experiences love and heartbreak, as well as pure and damaged souls, but the constants in his life remain his older sister Samantha (Linklater’s daughter Lorelei), single mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and father Mason Snr (Ethan Hawke).

Mason is shaped, like the rest of us by the events and people he experiences and Linklater, rather than inserting titles telling us what year it is, chooses instead to structure the film around cultural touchstones (the war in Iraq, Harry Potter, the 2008 US election) and technological advancements (iPods, Facebook, Wii, smart phones).

Mason Jnr (Ellar Coltrane) growing up in Boyhood

Mason Jnr (Ellar Coltrane) growing up in Boyhood

This is not just Mason Jnr’s story, though. Olivia’s journey is given as much care and attention and is powerfully realised by Arquette in a career-best turn. Olivia stumbles and falls from one bad relationship to the next, but with each knock down she picks herself up and moves on, discovering first and foremost that happiness must come from within.

Paralyzed by a serious case of arrested development, Mason Snr must first learn what it is to be a father and then an adult. It’s startling at first seeing the fresh-faced Hawke of the early Before… chapters, but as the years wear themself on the actor’s face a gradual evolution takes place in his character. Mason Snr isn’t a bad guy, he’s just a little lost and learns to find his way with the benefit of time.

Mason Snr (Ethan Hawke) has a spot of father-son time with Mason Jnr (Ellar Coltrane) in Boyhood

Mason Snr (Ethan Hawke) has a spot of father-son time with Mason Jnr (Ellar Coltrane) in Boyhood

It’s understandable that Coltrane has described finishing the film as like losing a limb. This is all he has known for a large part of his life and it’s fascinating observing the way he changes, both physically (at one point he visibly ages between heading upstairs one night and coming downstairs in the morning, such is Linklater’s canny editing) and emotionally.

The film is full of beautifully observed moments that stay with you – Mason’s best friend waving goodbye on his bike when the family move to Houston; the look on Mason Snr’s face when he realises his son has become a man; the quiet devastation Olivia feels when Mason is packing to leave for college. All these are bookended by the look of hope, contemplation and wonder Mason gives at the start and end of the film.

Mason Jnr looks forward to life in Boyhood

Mason Jnr looks forward to life in Boyhood

The magic that Linklater has found in Boyhood is that these are people we all know. Just as a programme like The Simpsons works on multiple levels and can be appreciated in different ways over the course of time, so to will Boyhood. Personally, I recognised myself both in Mason Jnr as a lad wondering what the world held in store and in Mason Snr through my struggle to accept the limitations life sometimes imposes.

Linklater’s masterpiece is a film that will become regarded as one of the defining pieces of cinema of this decade. To borrow the title of the late Roger Ebert’s autobiography, Boyhood is simply ‘life itself’.

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19 comments

  1. HSLR · August 26, 2014

    I’m curious about this film, mostly because it was filmed in real time. We can see the actors growing older… I think it’s it’s very interesting, it’s on my list of films to watch 😉

    • Three Rows Back · August 26, 2014

      The 12 year thing is getting in the way of a brilliant movie. The best of the year for me. Thanks for the feedback.

  2. CMrok93 · August 26, 2014

    Though it may have been nearly three hours, it didn’t feel so to me. It just went by real quick, quite smoothly, but always stayed interesting no matter what. Good review.

    • Three Rows Back · August 26, 2014

      Absolutely. Never felt like three hours; wished it could have been longer! Cheers Dan.

  3. theipc · August 26, 2014

    Patricia Arquette can Arquette my boyhood any day!!

    WHOOP!

  4. ruth · August 26, 2014

    Man there’s been so many stellar reviews of this one. “…grand in its ambition as it is intimate in its emotional spirit” LOVE that, you’ve sold me, Mark! 😉

  5. Stu · August 26, 2014

    Nice write up sir. This is the film that I’ve enjoyed most this year and I really doubt if I’ll see anything better. Despite the long running time it felt as though it flew by. A great achievement by Linklater.

    • Three Rows Back · August 26, 2014

      Muchos gracias Stu. Quite agree mate; film of the year without doubt.

  6. fernandorafael · August 27, 2014

    Beautiful review! Can’t wait to check this one out!

  7. Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop · August 27, 2014

    Top review mate and I can’t argue with you whatsoever. It’s a fantastic piece of cinema, I just hope it gets the recognition it deserves.

    • Three Rows Back · August 29, 2014

      Cheers Chris. I hope so too. I have a feeling it will be nominations but will probably lose out to something we haven’t seen yet.

  8. ckckred · August 27, 2014

    Nice review and completely agree. A very powerful picture indeed, one I can’t wait to see again. I also found my life relatable to Mason, even though I didn’t have all the problems he had.

    • Three Rows Back · August 29, 2014

      Glad you agree mate. It’s one of those movies that will reward repeat viewings I feel.

  9. Consumed by Film · August 29, 2014

    Brilliant write-up Mark. Really need to see this! Sounds rather seminal.

    Adam.

  10. Mark Walker · January 24, 2015

    Just realised that I missed this review, man. Spot on as usual, though. This is marvellous achievement from Linklater and the performances were so natural. Good to see Hawke and Arquette receive Oscar noms for it.

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