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Movie Review: Boyhood

August 1, 2014
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Richard Linklater has been a groundbreaker in filmmaking for over a decade. From Dazed and Confused to Waking Life and the Before Sunrise trilogy, Linklater has exhibited ingenuity and a penchant for the unexpected. Now comes Boyhood, his most ambitious project to date. Linklater employs the talents of the same actors over 12 years to chronicle the story of a young boy, (Ellar Coltrane as Mason) from boyhood (six years old) until his first year in college. The result of his efforts is that we literally watch Mason grow up before our eyes.

At the beginning, Mason’s parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) are separated. Arquette is a harried single mom trying to juggle Mason and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) with school. Their absentee father swoops in with gifts, and thanks to a case of arrested development, he is the “fun” parent that the children gravitate toward.

There are two parallel storylines in Boyhood. One revolves around Mason and his sister and their trials and tribulations throughout childhood and their teen years. The other one centers around Arquette and Hawke as they experience all the elements of the modern family, replete with divorces, blended families and strife.

Mason’s mom does a lousy job picking her husbands, but Mason dutifully manages to navigate the challenge of adapting to these upheavals in his life. He stoically watches as his mom’s marriages degenerate into fear and heartache. One seemingly decent man becomes a violent alcoholic. Meanwhile, his slacker musician dad grows up to some extent and starts a second family.

But Mason trudges on, and we see glimpses of all the things normal little boys indulge in-perusing lingerie catalogs, riding bikes and experiencing a first crush.

Arquette is excellent, and single parents will appreciate her struggles and earnest attempts to improve her family’s lifestyle by going back to school. She’s whip smart, so it becomes a little perplexing when she picks such horrible partners. But it’s realistic; women do it all the time for the companionship and short-lived security. Hawke is perfect as the idealistic liberal dad. At one point he encourages his children to steal republican campaign signs off their neighbors’ lawns.

But this is really Coltrane’s show. His acting is organic, particularly when he is young. It never feels like you are watching an actor, just a real boy growing up on screen.

Boyhood is a timely, yet painful portrayal of the state of modern families. You’ll be hard pressed not to find something you relate to in the film. Boyhood has something for just about everyone, and it is simply a unique viewing experience that you’re unlikely to see again. Be aware that this is a very long film (2 hours and forty minutes), so make plans accordingly.

3.5/4

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