Boyhood restores my faith in the power of film as an art form. Amid the dog days of summer movie garbage, here is the best film of the year, a transcendent piece of storytelling that is compelling, moving, true, and unforgettable. Everyone knows the back story about director Richard Linklater shooting segments of the story over a 12 year period with the same cast, but this is not a gimmick picture. Linklater's daring move (the list of what could have gone wrong with production is endless, and filled mostly with death preponderances) pays off not in trickery, but in seamless storytelling that comes together in concert through emotional honesty. It is Linklater's masterpiece.
The story focuses on the life and times of Mason, played by Ellar Coltraine from a seven year old to a college freshman. Mason has a sister, Samantha, played by Linklater's own daughter Lorelei. Their mother is a determined woman (Patricia Arquette) who struggles to make a better life for her children and ends up making mistakes in love over the years. The dad is Ethan Hawke, who at first is an earnest young man with a GTO and dreams of being a musician, but eventually turns into a responsible adult. Dad is there for the fun weekends, and it is mom who fights to keep her head above water. All of these characters float like satellites around Mason as he works his way through some of the toughest years we all have, There are ups and downs, simple moments and moments of confusion, loves and losses, the struggle to understand. Linklater taps into his characters with an honest eye.
The power of Boyhood lies in its details. Sure, there are big moments in the story as there are big moments in all our lives. Mason's mother marries her professor who turns out to be a frightening man. She hooks up with a student of her own once she becomes a college professor down the road, and things go south once again. But what sticks with me about the beginnings of these relationships is the way Linklater frames Mason's perspective of these gentlemen callers. It is a small, cockeyed glance, a look of curiosity and confusion as he witnesses another man moving into his life. A small detail, but an important one, something that still lingers.
There are moments that will reach any viewer, be it divorce, step parents, adjustments and understanding, or the simple times of happiness. As a son and now a father, I found the scenes with Mason and his father to be the most personal, and the next person in the audience may connect with something else. Regardless of the connection, this is a life unfolding in front of our eyes. As Ellar Coltraine becomes a man, so does Mason. He grows from a quiet young boy to a quiet, introverted teenager searching for himself. From trying to understand the world, Mason becomes a young man trying to understand his own existence. And there are no sweeping moments of epiphany, the music doesn't swell and characters don't change their world through unreasonable circumstances. Even when the mother's second husband turns out to be a dangerous threat, the situation is not resolved with theatrics, but in a very matter of fact way that reality dictates more often than not. He is simply... dealt with.
And the screenplay from Linklater is simple and conversational, a sublime work of ease and intelligence. It never outreaches its characters or goes for a big payoff, it simply exists, just like all of us in the end.
The transitions between years are done expertly, with music and current events shaping the year. At almost three hours long, I didn't want it to end. I could have watched this story all day long. Richard Linklater has pulled off quite a feat and created a magical movie going experience. I plan on seeing it again very soon because I know the experience will only enrich the early moments. It is rare that a film makes me want to go back almost immediately, but Boyhood begs for such a thing. I will not soon forget this.