Review by Bob Ignizio
Director Richard Linklater's BOYHOOD would be interesting for the way it was made, alone. Shot off and on over the span of 12 years, it follows a small group of actors as they and their characters grow and change before our eyes. But the changes are more than merely physical, and BOYHOOD is much more than what some might be inclined to write off as a gimmick movie.
Where so many “coming of age” films feel artificial and contrived, BOYHOOD seems to capture what it's really like for a boy to transform into a young man. It's a process that takes time, not something that happens over the course of one magical summer with one big dramatic moment where everything comes together.
There is no clear narrative line that BOYHOOD follows. It's just a collection of moments in the life of Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane). From the moment we meet him at age six, Mason already has a bit of an anti-authoritarian streak and an artistic demeanor. His parents Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) are divorced, and his older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) has a bit of an attitude. The film follows Mason until he turns eighteen and heads off to college, and while many of the moments along the way seem kind of minor on their own, taken as a whole they add up to much more than the sum of their parts.
While Mason Jr. is the primary focus of the film, Olivia and Mason Sr. each go through interesting transformations of their own. Olivia is definitely trying her best to take care of her kids largely on her own. Despite being a smart woman she doesn't always exercise the best judgment, especially when it comes to men.
As for Mason Sr., when we first meet him he seems like the typical crappy divorced dad we've seen in so many other films who's barely there, and when he is just wants to have fun and buy his kid's affection with gifts. Over the course of the film, though, Mason Sr. grows up as much as his son, eventually becoming a man we and his kids can respect.
Lorelei definitely gets the least attention. She's onscreen enough to register as a real person, but just barely. But hey, the movie is called BOYHOOD. Maybe Linklater shot enough footage for a companion feature, GIRLHOOD. Given his unique approach to filmmaking it wouldn't be a total shocker.
As with other Linklater films, notably the BEFORE trilogy which also follows the a small number of characters over the course of many years, this is a very talky film, and like nearly all of Linklater's films it meanders around and can seem unfocused at times. But there's also some of the youthful energy and humor of Linklater's DAZED AND CONFUSED that helps give the film life. It may take a long and circuitous path, but it's never dull.
Still, two hours and forty five minutes of this may seem like an awful lot of time for viewers to invest. But hey, if audiences can sit through nearly three hours of robots turning into cars and blowing stuff up, one would hope they could devote as much time and attention to something a little more relatable that actually has something to say about the human condition. And guess what, it's pretty entertaining to boot, all without a single explosion.
BOYHOOD has so far received near universal acclaim from critics, and has fared almost as well with regular audiences. While I prefer, like Mason Jr., to think that I don't run with the pack, in this case I have to go along with the crowd. This is one of the best movies of the year so far, and a near certain lock for my top 10 list even with all the Fall Oscar bait yet to come. 4 out of 4 stars.