Friday, June 06, 2014


I know it's been over a year since my last post, but I was feeling inspired to write up a review of Boyhood since we managed to catch it on Sunday at SIFF and it's not widely released yet but it's one of the only movies I'll have seen during the Festival that will be available nationwide. We still have three more movies to see before SIFF 2014 is in the books, and maybe I'll follow that up with short reviews of my favorites (we'll have seen 14 of the 140+ films).

The trailer for Boyhood has a couple of spoilers, but I'll share it in the hopes that it will encourage more people to check out this movie:

Richard Linklater (of the "Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight" series fame) set out 12 years ago on a daring film project: to create a film that follows the boyhood of a fictional character from age 6 to 18 as he deals with growing up in a family after his biological parents divorce. The catch is that this character is played by the same actor without any special effects trickery - all versions of the boy are portrayed by Ellar Coltrane. It's really less of a movie though than a cinematic experiment. While I do think it has its share of problems in the end, I feel that they're outweighed by the wholly unique experience of watching this movie and partially just inherent in the overall story. This is in stark contrast to another cinematic experiment that hasn't gotten quite as much attention stateside, the Aussie film The Turning based on the book of short stories of the same name that I think almost completely failed to make a cohesive movie out of over a dozen short stories directed by different people.

Boyhood doesn't follow your typical movie formula. It plays more like a series of vignettes that are trying to explain the formative moments of this boy's life. They are held together by involving the same central characters and overall style (after all, the same director made all of them). They actually dovetail quite well with one another. I thought it would be super obvious from a technological point of view in picture quality that the film was made over 12 years, but it really isn't - you just see the main character (Mason Jr.) and his sister (portrayed by Linklater's real-life daughter, Lorelei) age during the course of the film. It flows surprisingly well. The catch is that it's almost like you're looking through a peephole into this kid's life at very specific times. In fact, it's hard for me to think of a scene without the main character in it. Because it has to span so much time, I feel like there are plotlines that aren't fully explored that I would've loved to have seen more of, except that the movie is already far too long at a whopping 164 minutes.

I'm digressing a bit though. The point I'd like to get across first and foremost is that this is a really evocative film for probably any guy and probably some women, as well. I feel like girls have a distinctively different set of formative experiences from guys (a Girlhood sequel would be kind of cool), but what's deeply fascinating to me is that I can personally relate to so much of what happens in this movie even though my upbringing was so different from Mason Jr.'s. There's some pop culture nostalgia that comes up, but aside from that there's the nostalgia of things like getting bullied or sibling rivalries or lots of other things I don't want to spoil. It really is something special, in my opinion, and something that has stuck with me ever since I've walked out of the theater almost a week ago.

If I had to pick one thing in this movie that I wish would've been fixed it would be the relationship between Mason Jr. and his mother (portrayed by the amazing Patricia Arquette). She's very talented in her role and I feel like I don't always understand their relationship and that Mason Jr. doesn't always make sense because of this. It's really hard to explain what I mean without spoilers. I wish that Linklater could've cut some other stuff out of the film to make just a little more room for some of that exposition. The focus is so heavy on the boy that so many of the other characters in the film become throwaway and we don't get to get very deep into his sister, even. You have to kind of just accept that and enjoy the ride that this story is, but it still is something that bothered me even though I recognize it as a tough thing to fix.

My other issues with the movie are relatively minor. The movie ended with terrible dialogue. Terrible dialogue. I think it was purposely cheesy, but why end a film with cheesy dialogue? There was cheesy dialogue at other times in the film, but I feel like it was forgivable because kids are cheesy by nature when they're growing up. I'm conflicted on how I feel about Ellar Coltrane as an actor. It's tough because his supporting cast is so amazing and he's a newcomer to acting, but it was hard to tell at times if he was following direction on the character or phoning it in - it could've gone either way. His performance was good enough, but I don't think he elevated the film like he could've.

All-in-all, I would call this a must-see movie. If I had to rate it, I'd probably give it an A-. Yes, it's really long. Yes, it can feel like a dizzying array of content. If you can look past its flaws though, I hope you'll agree that Linklater has a real gem on his hands and I really hope that he gets a wide release for this. It's a very engrossing experience that is put together as sharply as one would expect from someone of Richard Linklater's caliber.

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