I saw Boyhood almost four months ago, and still I am struggling to find the words. This doesn't happen often. Usually, after I see a movie, a really good one will have me formulating my thoughts for a few days, tops. But rarely--very rarely-- is a movie so satisfying, so unprecedented, that it takes me upwards of three months to actually bring my thoughts together into something coherent. Also, I'm lazy.
But in the words of one of its characters, "Any dipsh*t can take pictures, but art... that's special." Boyhood is just that. It's special.
Filmed over the course of twelve years, Boyhood tells the story of a boy named Mason, and his experiences from the ages of five to eighteen as he lives, loves, and grows up in Texas (That's right, same cast and characters for twelve years). And with a such a simple premise, we as an audience are left to experience a journey unlike any other in the history of cinema.
There have been thousands of ambitious projects over the century or so that we have had film as a popular medium. Ben-Hur and Cleopatra had enormous budgets, The Fountain was mind-bending to a fault. Anything by Kubrick broke new ground, and The Matrix blew our minds and changed the way we made movies, influencing modern masterpieces like Inception and Gravity. But Boyhood's wow-factor isn't in its visuals or its ability to leave us in a breathless, adrenaline-filled stupor. The ambition in this movie is its method, how it plays to our perception of time, and how perfectly it captures what it is to be us.
Now by that, of course I do mean "us," in the existential sense. It provides insight and contemplation into the human condition, how and why we love, etc... but I really think that this will resonate most with people who grew up with the characters, those of us who were born in the 90's. Over the course of the movie we witness several landmarks that will make people of this generation say, "Wow, I remember that!" From a mother reading the second "Harry Potter" book to her children, to those children standing in line for the release of the sixth book, from the contention over the Bush administration to the campaign of 2008, and even from a young girl singing "Oops I Did It Again" to that same girl drinking as an adult in a bar to "Somebody that I Used to Know," there are many moments in this movie that will bring nearly unbearable nostalgia to my generation about twenty years from now.
But I digress. Boyhood is an experience worth taking in, comprised very carefully of many moving parts. First of all, we have performers with tremendous dedication. Ethan Hawke, a regular of director Richard Linklater (and the star of his masterful Before series) turns in a fascinating performance, beginning the film as the deadbeat dad of leading character Mason (Ellar Coltrane), and his transformation throughout the film is riveting, a testament of his ability to steal a scene. Patricia Arquette, playing Mason's mother, turns in career-best work. A lesser actress might have played the character's frustration too strongly, or perhaps her tragedy. We are allowed to feel Arquette's character in all her complexity. When she seethes in frustration at having to start her life over, we feel it. When she basks in the glow of her new marriage, we feel it. And when she cries over sending her child off to college, we feel it. Honestly, she's my pick for Best Supporting Actress this year, and if it's given to anybody but her or Jessica Chastain, I will be disappointed. Only Lorelei Linklater, daughter of the director, falls short as a performer. In early scenes of the movie, she provides some pretty funny moments as a snotty little brat, but as she ages her performance ranges from annoying to bland. She's not Hayden Christiensen, but she shouldn't quit her day job.
However, as the title and structure of the film suggest, Boyhood belongs to Ellar Coltrane. As Mason, he is in literally every scene of the film, which is no easy task, nor would it necessarily be fair to ask a child who is five years old to carry a movie. Coltrane is--er, was-- not your average five-year-old. As he grows, so does his character, in fascinating ways. Mason is a tortured, yet soulful, character. His experiences impact his life and personality in interesting ways. The promise of an old GTO causes him clear disappointment, and a conversation with his father after the rejection of a girl he likes makes his heartbreak palpable. Does he simply grow his hair out as a teenager because he feels like it? Or is it perhaps because his control-freak stepfather forced him to have it cut as a small child? Coltrane plays a character that feels very real, and though the film is, in truth, simply a collection of snapshots from various moments in his life, by the end of the story we feel like we have witnessed a human journey.
Of course, writer/director Richard Linklater (A Scanner Darkly, School of Rock, the Before series) must be paid his due credit. Crafting a film with such massive sense of scope can't be easy, but Linklater, the man who turned Before Sunrise into an acclaimed 18-year trilogy, imbues this film with the patience of the world, with precise control over everything in the frame. The result? A film of epic length, with characters that feel so real you could reach out and touch them. The film is three hours long, but never feels it. Linklater's drama and dialogue has always been intoxicating, and this is no exception. The characters discuss life, God, sex and everything in between. And, possibly the greatest hat-trick of all, we feel like we are right there, taking part in the discussion, and indeed, as we walk out of the film, we may partake in these discussions ourselves.
Of course, without a good soundtrack, you arguably don't have a good movie. Lucky for all involved (us included), the soundtrack is just right. Beginning with Coldplay's "Yellow," the tone of the film is set, in all its moving and contemplative glory. From there onward, the music itself is a time capsule, guiding us through the last decade with grace and beauty, eventually leading us to a tender moment as our hero drives through the Texas mountains with Family of the Year's "Hero" strumming in the background. It's a simple moment, but infinitely effective. Only Guardians of the Galaxy had a soundtrack this year that was this on-the-nose.
The precious few missteps of this film are almost completely irrelevant. Once in a while, a character's dialogue might feel clunky or verging on soliloquy, sometimes a bit too on the nose. But that is redeemed by mostly improvised dialogue throughout, that follows the beats of real conversation to a tee. And occasionally a scene might border on maudlin, but can anybody say that their life has never felt a tad overdramatic?
As I said before, the film has an epic runtime, but it moves through that runtime as we move through life: initially, it seems like a lot of time, and occasionally it might feel a bit slow, and at times might be distressing or upsetting. But when you finally reach the end of the journey, you might be amazed by all that you have seen, and all of the change that these people have undergone, both in real life and as characters, and when it all comes to a point, you may very well feel like no time has passed at all.
I cannot recommend this movie highly enough. It is a masterpiece. It is my Best Picture vote for the year, and never have I felt like that trophy would be more deserved. The sheer scope and ambition of Boyhood make it unlike anything else in the history of cinema. With such an achievement under its belt, the fact that it's this good is basically a bonus.
Boyhood is an absolute wonder, a triumphant 12-year American epic flying under the guise of an intimate personal drama. But more than that, more than anything else, it is the remarkable movie of a generation, a magnificent experience that perfectly represents what it is to be us. See. This. Movie.