Tuesday, August 26, 2014

MOVIE REVIEW: BOYHOOD Is the Definitive Coming-of-Age Film

By now, everyone is pretty aware of the radical experiment writer/director Richard Linklater has undergone with his new film, Boyhood. It's been a centerpiece of the film's marketing, and the audience I saw it with were murmuring about it before the lights went down. While I was certainly intrigued by such a risky choice, it was how Linklater would use the real-life aging of his actors in service to the story and themes that brought me to the theater, and I was not only impressed, I was in emotional awe. Boyhood is the true definition of a magnum opus. It is such an achievement that I find it challenging to try and encapsulate everything that makes it so special, but I will try.

The story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his family is so deceptive in its familiarity, but the fact that everyone actually ages and changes (physically and emotionally) brings a semi-documentary veracity that you can't fake. It transcends the simple concept of a story, resulting in a film that's better described as a series of snapshots into the lives of characters that feel all too real. That snapshot nature is never put on any kind of obvious display (no title cards or year dates), so you never feel like the central conceit is gimmicky or being shoved in your face. The film floats with such natural ease that it almost feels dreamlike. For a film bordering on a three hour length, it's a testament to everyone involved that the film feels so breezy and calm, and never once does anything seem extraneous or boring.

A lot of that attitude comes from the entire cast, who I wish could obtain a special award honoring them all. This is an ensemble of extraordinary talent, from both the adolescent actors and the adults. It's milestone material for Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, who feel more believable than they have in years. Ellar Coltrane is engaging and I really hope to see more of him. Watching Mason figure out who he is and find his own unique voice is something everyone goes through, and he sells it with incredible authenticity.

There's an honesty present in the film which informs every moment onscreen. It leads to a whole lot of humor that isn't jokey or forced, but just feels like the little laughs you get throughout your daily conversations and encounters throughout life. That honesty swings both ways, making the bits of darkness and uncertainty land just as perfectly as the lighter fare. It's an astonishing balance that keeps the film feeling truthful. There's nothing stagey or melodramatic in the entire picture. Everything feels so... real.

One definable aspect of that reality is the world these characters inhabit. From the posters on the walls to the music played in cars to the video games being played, nothing is fabricated or out of place. Ten years from now, Boyhood will be a remarkable time capsule of an entire decade. Actually, it already is. This only adds more validity to how the characters experience their lives. I hate when a movie is set in present day and someone is playing a video game that was obviously crafted for the film. It makes it seem like the story is set in a parallel universe just slightly to the right of ours. Having all of the media and culture be genuine just bolsters the idea that this is film about real people.

Boyhood feels like the culmination of everything Linklater has done up until this point. It's almost as if his entire body of work was practice for this film. There's the vignette portrait of Texas life from Slacker, the youthful humanity and uneasy transition into adulthood from Dazed and Confused and SubUrbia, the dreamy contemplation of Waking Life, and the real-time progression of the Before films. It's so rare to see a filmmaker's entire oeuvre distilled into something that is even more profound and inspired than what came before.

I feel like Boyhood is going to be a film that will continue to pop up in my brain for the next year or so. The simple story of watching someone grow up is universally understandable, but watching it unfold with utter truth and unflinching devotion to its characters and their environment makes it a groundbreaking accomplishment. As of now, this is my number one film of the year.

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