Boyhood

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Release: Friday, July 18, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

I know my refusal to get up out of my seat even after almost three consecutive hours of sitting — in considerably cramped quarters, I might add — is pretty weak testament to the fact that Boyhood just may be one of the coolest films this reviewer has had the privilege of watching. Saying I didn’t move after the film ended is not a very flashy statement and it probably won’t help sell a lot of tickets, I’ll admit. Instead it’s one that might even lead readers to think I just got stuck in the chair or something. Maybe I had even fallen asleep. I have seen that before, actually; people just lying there comatose while the credits rolled — sigh. What are they paying for?

If I had fallen asleep here, I would have just paid to sleep through a rare kind of cinematic event. Foolishly, I would have muted a voice I, as something of a nit-picky consumer of media, have been needing to hear for awhile. A voice that’s already too hard to hear when the Michael Bays and Brett Ratners and M. Night Shamalyans of the world won’t hush. Indeed I would have, in effect, slept through another chance to grow up once more, to do it all over again.

Wait, I didn’t mean I slept through my childhood the first time, just that I would have been. . . . . oh, never mind. You know what I mean. And you know what else, even if that opening line isn’t all that attention-grabbing, hey at least I’m being honest! I remain unable to leave this film behind, physically or psychologically. Yes, I might still be in denial. Yes, I’m still in the theater a week later. Yes, okay, that’s a lie.

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But here’s something I can’t lie about: Richard Linklater’s much-anticipated project no longer exists in mythology. It’s now out there, ready for public consumption, even if its distribution will only allow the public to ingest it in nibbles.

Should I be surprised, though? Maybe it is fate that Transformers: Age of Exstinky debuted to some 3,000 theaters all crammed to the brim like cans of sardines while this astounding feat of cinematic beauty has slowly earned the right to open in front of less than 1,000 indie crowds over the past month and a half. Seems to me the public always picks its battles quickly, and in this example it’s one between films with short skirts versus those with long-winded explanations. And it’s so totally a one-sided affair, too. An overwhelming number of times the former emerges victorious. Visual stimulation is easier to accomplish — not necessarily cheaper to produce — than ones of a conceptual or emotive nature. After all, even despite dismal reviews that caucophany was the fourth installment in a series that has seriously lost its way but is still earning money. Lots of it.

Boyhood is a rare film for many reasons, but chief among those has to be how faithfully it adheres to the typical viewer’s own experiences. (Unless, of course, you’re an alien.) Never before has the line between fiction and reality been so flirtatious, so challenging to define. Character names and relationships are afforded the protection of fictionalization, and thank goodness too because that’s one of perhaps two things distinguishing proceedings from home-video footage (the second element being a distinctly more expensive piece of equipment used in filming). Production values exist on a level liable to boggle the mind if one is not careful. And hopefully, if one is not passed out in their seats.

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 2.01.15 AMWe first meet Mason as his diminutive frame sprawls out upon a patch of brilliant green grass — eyes wide and full, ingesting every ounce of the sky above. Already he is engaged in a process we, the mere spectators, have been practicing for some time: being aware of his surroundings. (Later, finding a way to blend in.) While it’s a bit disconcerting never being able to pinpoint the precise moment we become aware of our own presence, there certainly becomes a point where its clear cynical men have abandoned the nescience of true boyhood. Such abstraction may not occur to every viewer, but it’s one of the more breathtaking developments over the course of these fleeting minutes.

In that iconic opening shot, Mason’s already sponge-like, absorbing and observing things about his environment, about the kinds of things kids his age do. He’s learning his family is also not the most traditional one, but he won’t understand why for another little while. Neither will we.These are the kinds of things real people grow up having to cope with, rather than worrying about when the token girl will pop up “on screen” and “become central to the plot via some contrivance.” That sugarcoating just won’t ring true here. And yet, Mason’s going to be a hero all the same for walking through this. Although enigmatic from the get-go his charm is not instantly earned. Particularly in the early years, Mason doesn’t feel as though he’s made of the stuff of even the most transparent of cinematic creations.

There’s something more organic about Coltrane’s presence. Whether this comes down to a particularly subtle acting style on his behalf or a sensationally perceptive script could be debated until the cows come home. Or at least, you know. . . until the absentee father does. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, two somewhat illustrious names in the industry, help ensure some of the film’s emotional gravity is not lost on slightly inexperienced actors. But this casting is about as extravagant as Boyhood becomes and it is not to suggest Coltrane doesn’t have to sweat the big stuff. Oh, how he does. But rather than sweating, Coltrane remains graceful, poised. He simply becomes what is asked of him.

Meanwhile, more identifiable ‘performances’ can be found with Hawke, as he embraces the opportunity to portray Mason Sr., the biological father whom Mason and Samantha only see on the odd occasion. A very fun Ethan Hawke provides charisma and energy where these kids really require strong parental support (every hard-working mother in the room should be able to empathize to great depths with Arquette’s brilliant performance); gifts where they need valuable lessons.

Ah, but he comes prepared with a few of those, too.

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Mason Sr. is a great guy, but perhaps not so much a competent father figure. All of his wisdom is imparted on-the-go. A scene in which he’s delivering the birds-and-the-bees speech takes place in a public setting and he’s even considerate enough to include both kids in the discussion. That kind of awkwardness only manifests itself in reality. There’s no way this scene is actually scripted. . .is there? Could it be? That’s just one example, albeit a particularly strong one. If I were to name some others we could be here all night and day.

As per the lyrics: “let me go. I don’t want to be your hero. I don’t want to be a big man. I just want to fight with everyone else.” Indeed. Ever the idealist, I didn’t want to get out of my seat because I wanted those pangs of nostalgia to never subside. Best part of all, my refusal to move is merely unique to one particularly reactive moviegoer. Linklater easily could have groped for sentimentality but where he avoids forcing saccharinity, he’s unable to escape effecting profundity.

Score08Recommendation: Boyhood is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Immense in both scope and ambition, Richard Linklater’s project is also intensely personal. His name ought to be crowned among the greatest directors of all time. With a single movie — although it would be a bit dismissive to label this just another title to add to the stack — I feel he has earned that right. A labor of love it may be, but this is also one of the most important and significant films ever released. I urge you with something akin to desperation, to treat yourself to this marvel.

Rated: R

Running Time: 165 mins.

Quoted: “Why are you crying?”

“Because I don’t have all the answers.”

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35 thoughts on “Boyhood

  1. Pingback: The 2014 DigiBread Awards | digitalshortbread

    • Teehee! Yeaaahhh. . .I didn’t mean to gush this much over this one. Ha! But man, this one was really pretty goddamn amazing. If you’re into seeing an entirely new technique to filming how characters age and interact, you won’t do any better than Boyhood. Maybe not anyway. 😉

      U just might have to check it out indeed.

  2. Excellent review, Tom! Obviously, I need to see this one. Was I just not paying attention, or did Boyhood kind of come out of nowhere? I didn’t even know it was happening until I started seeing all these positive reviews!

    • This has been bearing the brunt of A) falling in the shadow of massive summer flicks like Transformers: Age of Extinction and the like, and B) being one of the smallest limited-release films I’ve heard of in awhile. Its gotten like 1,800 screens to this day. Nationwide. It opened on literally 5 or ten! I just don’t get.

      This film is an absolutely stunning feat and I can’t wait for others to get to it. I know I’m definitely on cloud 9 with it, but there’s no denying there’s something different about this one.

  3. Wow – you really loved this! Excellent review, Tom. I LOVE when someone has a reaction like this to a movie. Awesome. : ) It’s an excellent achievement in film but, overall, I wasn’t quite as “moved” as I expected to be, especially being a big Linklater fan. It’s still a very worthy film & I’m very glad to have experienced it in the cinema. : )

    • I really did Mutey. One of my very favorite films of this year, or many others for that matter. Thanks so much for coming through with all the likes. One day we shall hopefully be back in synch here!! hahah

  4. Thanks for the linkage brother!

    As for the film, I’m glad that you loved it so much. My reaction was a lot different walking out of the theater. I wasn’t sure what to think. It took some time for everything to sink in and for me to admit that I genuinely liked what I had seen.

    This is a successful experiment. I do feel that movies would be boring if every single film was told with the same form of storytelling. However, I was able to relate to the characters and that really helped me enjoy it!

    • Thanks Louie, thanks a lot man. I think sometimes these “very different” approaches take longer times than others to be appreciated. Sometimes they aren’t at all. I will say that my review was right in line with those pretentiously positive-type good reviews, but man I just really liked what I saw here. The device worked perfectly.

      Like I also understand where Rob is coming from on that, the device could have been dropped and it perhaps would be interesting to see different actors approach the role at different stages in his life. Either way, one of the better films of the year in this reviewer’s eyes. And I think the ability to relate on a very deep level is what makes it special.

  5. Excellent work Tom. So annoyed I haven’t managed to see this yet. Interesting point on the real life/fictional coalescence, that hadn’t struck me as a possibility until now.

    Adam.

    • It’s one of those dichotomies you can’t help but noticing and then exploring well after the film’s over. This one just blew me out of the water man, as you might be able to tell hahaha. Thanks very much man I’m excited to hear the news from you.

      The only thing about Boyhood that irks me is its slow-rolling limited release. Give it a wide international for goodness’ sake!!

    • Cheers Fernando. The race is officially on for the #1 spot, but Boyhood has got some challenges ahead of it for sure (Gone Girl, Interstellar, Exodus, Foxcatcher)! I guess it just means so much to look forward to.

      Speaking of which, I’m truly jealous you’re still going to get to watch this with fresh eyes. Have fun man, enjoy. I hope you do, anyway. 🙂

  6. Actually Boyhood is a little like Linklater’s own “Before” trilogy in scope, but all contained in one individual film. A truly special work of art.

    • Mark you have no idea how much I look forward to seeing the Before trilogy. I don’t know why I’ve let the wait go on for so long, Netflix will be hooking me up shortly. Ive only ever heard amazing things about those films. If it’s anything like this, I’m satisfied! 🙂

  7. Second excellent review of this I’ve read tonight (the other being Mr 3 Rows Back above!) and the second review I completely agree with. It’s a real experience this one and definitely my favourite film this year to date. Doubt I’ll see anything better and looks like you’ve had the same reaction to it. And I can’t believe the number of screens compared to Transformers!

    • Mark most certainly had a great review as well. I’m glad we all three seem to be in perfect sync on this, Boyhood was a challenge to make I’m sure and it paid off immensely!! One of my favorites of 2014 by a long shot. Top spot? Eh. Too early to tell just yet.

      I know, isn’t it something, how a Michael Bay movie can persuade so many and something fundamentally amazing such as this can be virtually ignored. Tis the world we live in.

  8. We are completely on the same page. I am still thinking of this film and will be for a long time to come. It’s a masterpiece; a transcendent movie experience. This, it has to be said, is probably your finest piece of writing yet Tom. I think I’ve found my number one film of the year.

    • You’re very kind Mark, thank you. Shook loose some of that dirt on the writer’s block and got moving, Thank god!

      Loved loved loved this film. It’s perhaps slightly early to say for me about top of the list, but my goodness Interstellar, Gone Girl, and at least one or two other titles I’m now blanking on (of course) are going to need to be incredible. Boyhood looked like a ridiculously ambitious project before I saw it and i think it paid off.

  9. i thought it was really cool how when he grew up, he resembled Hawke in many ways. great review Tom, eventhough I am not as enthused by it as you were

    • Hands-down one of the coolest experiments I’ve ever watched.

      Great observation, as well. I did notice how much he started to resemble Hawke in the later years esp. Great casting, great performances. . .just a great time!

    • Great point man, the whole thing just passes by so easily and effectively. Because it doesn’t have the typical grand-slam event happening at the end, the point where we always build up to in most movies, the passage of time seems a lot more natural and everything. I loved the way Linklater was able to put this together. In the top three favorites of this year, easily.

    • Great to see you Rincewind!!! Yeah man, it’s a truly astounding feat of cinema. Something to be cherished for future generations. I’m glad I got to saw it, and also to hear it impressed you as well.

    • Hahaha! Jeez, he does kinda have weird eyes. I thought for the longest time he looked like a future punk-rocker. Same difference, I guess.

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