Stars: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelai Linklater
Director: Richard Linklater
Oscar History: 6 nominations/1 win (Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actress-Patricia Arquette*, Supporting Actor-Ethan Hawke, Original Screenplay, Editing)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 5/5 stars
Great cinema changes our perceptions on how we see the world. It can make us rethink how we approach our lives, and how we encounter love, death, mercy, and all of the capital-letter emotions that define who we are as individuals. Great cinema, however, rarely does this while challenging how movies are made. That’s the really remarkable thing that Richard Linklater seems to want to accomplish with his filmography. Linklater has, through both this film and the Celine and Jesse movies, created something truly special-a look in on a narrative tale of people, told in an exciting, chronological way, and through immense realism (both films took decades to make), finds a way to connect with the audience in a way that old-age makeup and different actors never could. Boyhood is a testament to one man’s extended and devoted vision to a story, and is easily the first truly vital reason to go to the movies this year.
(Spoilers Ahead) The project itself seems mammoth. Told over twelve years, Linklater follows a fictional family through their pitfalls and heartaches and high-points. The movie was actually filmed over those twelve years, so we get to see the subtle ways that the actors age and don’t age. One of the things I’ve always found a bit silly about aging in the movies is that people rarely change as dramatically as the Rick Bakers would let you believe. Here we see the subtlety of, say, Ethan Hawke’s face becoming a bit thinner, a bit more worn, rather than the larger scale job that another film would have done to “naturally age” its star. The realism in this film is one of the clear draws. You feel almost as if you are seeing a documentary, it’s so astonishing when a scene passes and we have seen our main character of Mason Jr. (Coltrane) shifting his hairstyle or suddenly sporting an earring or a slight growth spurt. This makes even the most mundane of scene shifts thrilling-what year will we find ourselves in next?
This isn’t the first time that a filmmaker has used time-specific realism to tell multiple stories. Francois Truffaut would notably use this in his five Antoine Doinel films, with Jean-Pierre Leaud portraying the director’s most iconic character in five pictures, going from life as a young boy into a fully-fledged adult. Linklater, though, takes it a step further and seems to almost react to Coltrane’s real-life personalities. You see what Coltrane looks like and has started to progress into, and you feel like the story has shifted to reflect that he went through an emo-youth phase, for example. It’s a deeply reflexive film, and while Truffaut gave us multiple movies to process Doinel (and Linklater did with Jesse and Celine), here we receive them all in one continuous spin.
To get into the plot of the movie would be to make it sound boring, because life is rarely a series of exciting events (I have been on a Desperate Housewives binge watch at my apartment, and while I love that film totally, I will admit that it’s ridiculous in the face of something so utterly realistic, considering that people rarely get engaged after six-week courtships and the like), but instead simply trying a first cigarette or a random conversation about painted fingernails. The performances are deeply naturalistic. Coltrane and Linklater grow completely in their characters, and I love the way that their natural tendencies as both actors and siblings grow throughout the film (there’s a terrific scene late in the film where Lorelai Linklater’s Samantha subtly stands up for her brother-in any other film this would have been a “big deal” but here you hardly notice it). The professional actors in the cast, led by Hawke and Arquette, both feel very much like a part of this world and not movie stars in a documentary. You have to hand it to actors who experienced varied levels of success during this filming process (particularly Arquette with Medium) to never feel like they had to miss out on a part of the movie because of scheduling conflicts or demand more from their roles. It’s a wonderfully acted quartet, and takes the method-style of acting to a whole new level.
This brings me to something I want to make sure I slip in somewhere in this review. If I have one public service announcement for audiences is that it is imperative that you watch this film on a big-screen and not relegate it to a Netflix rental. It is expanding more profusely at the moment (and based on the per-screen averages it’s still pulling in, hopefully will continue to expand), but this is a movie that you have to experience without distractions, because you won’t be able to notice when you pause the movie in your living room the rolling cavalcade of time, since time is really at the center of this film. You get scene after scene, never really slowing done (it moves faster than any 166-minute film I’ve ever watched), exhausting you at some points with how quickly a moment passes (you want to see more of, say, Mason Jr.’s relationship with his dad or learn more about one of his mother’s marriages), but always unrelenting down the way to the end.