It’s been about a week since I’ve seen Richard Linklater’s much anticipated Boyhood. I don’t usually give myself that amount of time to conceive a write-up. Boyhood’s different though.
Boyhood’s an ambitious project that had Linklater shooting scenes over a 12 year period capturing his young lead Mason (played by Ellar Coltrane) mature into a strong-willed individual. He, along with his cast, crafted a story around that filmmaking method and then – I suppose – Linklater put the finishing touches on key dialogue and motives. I read an interview where the conductor asked what would’ve happened if Coltrane developed into a burly aspiring football player. Linklater responded by saying the film would’ve been about a burly aspiring football player.
It’s that improvisational attitude that makes Boyhood an accomplished feat for most of its beefy duration. The scenes where the cast are learning within moments are a wonder to watch.
There’s a scene where Mason, his Dad (played exceptionally by Ethan Hawke), and his sister Samantha (played by Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei) are at a bowling alley in their Texan town. Taking place between games and during the teenage era of the film, Dad has an impromptu talk about safe sex. The flustered look on Samantha’s face and the bewildered expression on Mason’s mug hints that the filmmaker pulled Hawke aside and secretly told him what he had to do.
The results are funny, insightful, and – most of all – organic. Hawke is charismatic in a role that truly shows how well he can riff and quickly build trust. The freewheeling juice that courses through this scene and many others have beautiful moments of people reacting and responding sensibly. We can’t take our eyes away from the screen.
Drawing from his experience in his coming-of-age breakout Dazed and Confused, his developmental dexterity found in his Before series, and his ability to direct younger leads as we saw him do in School of Rock, Linklater takes his strengths and applies them to a sprawling film and is able to maintain a workable flow as his actors grow.
With Boyhood, however, we do see a difference between people “reacting” during a scene and people “acting”. And, yes, I know that sounds like a cliched clip out of an actor’s textbook.
The Hawke scenes are practically flawless. The scenes with the children being paired with their Mother (played by Patricia Arquette) get their points across, but can’t get by without sounding stilted.
Arquette can be a well versed actress in the right roles. The role of the Mother is in her wheelhouse. The way this movie was formed is not.
Part of the reason is that since most of the story takes place with Mom, Arquette has to move the movie forward with what little plot that is being carried over through each period in time. She delivers the emotion during achingly bad relationships with coarse male figures, but the dialogue doesn’t feel as authentic as Hawke’s. There’s also that realization we see in the audience of the young, inexperienced actors realizing they have to put on their “acting” faces instead of having that performer’s freedom they were so comfortable with.
Linklater masterfully weaves through expanding worlds and thoughts as his characters grow up before our eyes. In that sense, the film has been inspired by the filmmaker’s lucid fever dream Waking Life. Themes like alcoholism are played a little too broadly, however. It gets to a point where we see someone sitting next to an open bottle of beer, and we start to worry. However, it’s refreshing to see the act of bullying being handled in a way that doesn’t turn the vehicle into an after school special.
The film is also filled with precious little moments of nostalgia that don’t necessarily build towards a climax, but are there to provide a sense of time and carefree spirt. If I have any quibbles about these neat segments, it’s that they feel too much like watching photographs come to life instead of watching something that belongs in a movie. And, there are plenty of deterring moments where Linklater is showing us older things and asking us if we remember them.
When Mason has the ability to build his own opinions about romantic relationships and work ethic, we interestingly witness Mason become more like his Father. It’s a cool transition to take in. When Coltrane is rambling off about how obnoxious life can be, we see his outspokenness flesh out as well. There’s a lot of moody brooding, but Coltrane is still a marvel to watch.
It took me a while to put together overall thoughts regarding Boyhood because even though I have nitpicks with earlier portions of Linklater’s movie, they help identify its specialties later on. But, it’s important not to forget about how the film’s fluency is occasionally interrupted with staccato drives.
So, Boyhood’s not perfect. At least, on the whole. I adore a lot of things about it, I can cherish many qualities Mason and his family showcase, and the film often shows how terrific it is with Richard Linklater’s bulletproof integrity. I don’t love Boyhood, but I really, really, really, really like it.