Sunday, July 20, 2014


 5 / 5 

Is that all there is?
Peggy Lee (1969)

Nearly three hours long, Richard Linklater's Boyhood left me wondering the same question Peggy Lee sang, but for a different reason: I wanted more.

It couldn't end this way, without real resolution, in the middle of the life of Mason Evans Jr., the boy we have watched grow from 6 to 18.  Boyhood is a long movie, but it proves Roger Ebert's famous axiom that no bad movie is too short and no good movie is too long.  Boyhood may be lengthy, but it feels like it's just getting started.

Linklater also directed the Before series of films (Sunrise, Sunset and Midnight), which explore many similar themes, though from the standpoint of a single relationship.  Boyhood goes ones step further, beginning with a 6-year-old boy, the remarkably compelling Ellan Coltrane, following him through his first day of college at age 18.

Cinematically, it's not like anything that's ever been done before.  Of course, we've seen child stars grow up and grow old in front of our eyes in long-running TV series, but Boyhood is different, it condenses the boy's experience into a single feature film, surrounding him with characters who grow with him.  The primary concern may be stated right there in the title, but Boyhood is about more than one boy -- it's about the growth, maturity and struggles of everyone around him.

While other filmmakers concern themselves with visual effects and technological developments in an effort to present audiences with something unique, what Linklater has done with Boyhood is a singular achievement that thrills in ways those movies can only dream of doing.

Boyhood captivates us by combining simple, anecdotal moments with a full-bodied story that makes us lean forward in our seats and feel tension, worry, genuine joy and moments of surprised pain because after a while we realize it could truly be heading in any direction.

Loosely, the story is that Mason and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director's own daughter) live with their mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette).  Their father (Ethan Hawke) abandoned them and moved to Alaska, but he's back in Texas and wants to be part of their lives.  Mason Sr. isn't exactly the picture of appropriate parenting, but the kids love him.

Mason adores his mother, too, and she is the best parent she can be, though her choices in men may be less assured.  For a while, it seems they might find stability, but it is always a chimera.  Mason learns how to tolerate the uncertainty much better than his mother ever does.  He sees her trying, and it instills in him the same strong desire to move forward, even when life pushes him back.

Boyhood makes this small domestic drama feel wonderfully large and meaningful, and entirely relatable.  Linklater and his cast draw the outlines of Mason's life in necessarily broad yet effectively specific strokes, so that its struggles and its successes seem to mirror every life.  Not much works out exactly the way Mason, or especially his mother, expects it will, because it so rarely does for anyone.  There are old grudges, constant temptations, bad decisions, perpetual injustices, and more than a few solid disappointments.  Eventually even the worst scars heal and fade, the best moments rise to the surface as the stuff of which we are made.

Throughout, there is beauty and even real meaning.  Boyhood finds its beauty in simple places: a crystal-clear lake, a flat Texas road, the backyard.  From its wide-eyed view of childhood to its Texas setting, there are some similarities here to the difficult, languorous Terence Malick film Tree of Life, but Linklater isn't attempting to be a visual poet, nor is he trying to be a faux documentarian.  He's trying to find honesty and truth, and he succeeds.

It would have been easy to turn Mason into a troubled teen, to make his story into some sort of cautionary tale about the perils of broken marriages or the way modern media make kids grow up too fast.  Boyhood doesn't go for easy plot machinations.

Along the way there are surprises, to be sure, and not all happy ones, a familiar situation to most of us -- jobs that don't work out, relationships that begin promisingly but end in acrimony, friendships aborted, rooms that need to be painted before moving too soon.  There's a deeply touching moment toward the end of the film in which Olivia echoes some of the same sentiment of that Peggy Lee song, but through it all is a warm and satisfying optimism, a solid belief that tackling life's challenges is worth the effort.

Boyhood is as close to a perfect film as you are likely to find.   Its final scene is an altogether appropriate one, and I appreciated it but also didn't want Boyhood to fade out; I could have spent another 16 years with Mason, and perhaps in 2030, Linklater will bring us the next installment of this life.  Boyhood may have begun as an experiment, but it has ended as the most satisfying three hours I've spent at the movies in a long, long time.

Viewed July 19, 2014 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks


1 comment:

  1. Great review, thanks for that. I will put it high on my list now.