Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: Boyhood

Richard Linklater has a history of directing thought provoking films. From Dazed and Confused (which I still need to see one of these days) to School of Rock to the "Before" trilogy, Linklater is usually pushing the envelope of innovation as a director. With the release of Boyhood, Linklater has completely outdone himself and attempted probably the greatest "stunt" in filmmaking history. By casting a child actor at age 7 and filming a coming-of-age story that spans 12 actual years of the actor's life, Linklater has put together the best film portrayal of "life" that has ever been conceived. Boyhood is a great concept turned great movie thanks to superb casting, direction and the ability to convey the passage of time simply with on-screen aging coupled with well-placed musical cues.

In 2002 during the wake of post-9-11 America, Linklater casted newcomer Ellar Coltrane (then 7 years old) to begin this epic filming plan. Coltrane plays Mason, the pulse of Boyhood who is the son to Patricia Arquette, a struggling single mother who has separated from Mason's Dad (Ethan Hawke).  Mason has an older eccentric sister (played by Linklater's real-life daughter Lorelei in an equally perfect casting choice) who seems to get along great with her brother.

The plot of this film is really easy to sum up and without giving away any spoilers it is simply Mason growing up from a first grade child to a borderline adult as he leaves home for college at age 18. Early-on we see Mason as a normal boy, playing with friends, struggling with school at times as any grade school child will do. We get to witness several of the key events of his life including clashing with new father figures as his Mother ends up remarrying questionable men throughout the years, experiencing bonding experiences with his birth Father, girl crushes, experimentation with drinking/drugs, love, loss and everything else that most normal adolescent boys go through. The plot itself seems basic at first glance, but it's really the execution and immersion that help set this film apart.

Aside from prudent planning on his end, Linklater absolutely NAILED his casting choices. Coltrane is perfect as Mason, he remains engaging and likeable throughout the film and it really is a stroke of luck that Linklater chose this boy to be his muse for 12 years. He could have easily chosen a little boy who grows up to be troubled, awkward or simply just a piss-poor actor. Coltrane is so solid through the whole film that I hope the Academy looks his way when thinking about Best Actor next year. Hawke is also so likeable and believable as the single dad who cherishes his weekends with his children. It's incredible to think that Hawke starred in TWO sequels to Before Sunrise with Linklater during the filming of this movie. Lorelei Linklater makes her real-life father proud by balancing her on-screen brother with some much needed comedic moments. Most of the other members of the cast fill in the holes nicely and it's evident that Linklater was able to get some natural effortless performances out of his actors.

Linklater does a remarkable job of letting you know what year is being portrayed on screen without explicitly telling you. We see Mason go from a Gameboy to a Wii to an iPhone as technology advances over 12 years. All throughout the film we hear popular music from various years being played in the background, on car stereos, etc... Just from hearing a Foo Fighters tune, the audience can assess the time frame of the story. Linklater mixes in real-life events like the Bush/Kerry election and the release of the Half Blood Prince Harry Potter book to keep everything tied into reality.  Basically, the craftsmanship of this film is seamless and the plot flows so well.  It's utterly incredible to think that a filmmaker kept track of plot details and performance nuances over this wide span of time. The movie resonated especially well with me being a divorced / re-married father myself. It was eye-opening to watch this knowing that my kids are about to take this very same journey through life themselves.

This film is unique and powerful on a number of levels while mixing in some real humor throughout (an excellent use of an R rating for language by the way). My only small nitpicks are the movie's length (runs a bit too long) and Patricia Arquette's performance (inconsistent at times). While small imperfections, I don't think I can give this film my first 5 JR rating of 2014. Instead I will give it 4.5 out of 5 and in a strange occurrence, the last two films i've seen have surpassed each other as the best movie of 2014 thus far. Boyhood is a filmmaking achievement that we will probably never see attempted again. Thanks to Ellar Coltrane and his visionary director, we get to experience 12 years of growing up on-screen which I hope will translate to Oscar accolades next year.  It is a mortal lock that Linklater will be up for Best Director for this achievement of a lifetime. Go see this movie ASAP!