BOYHOOD Movie Review
Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) comes from a family in Austin, Texas that falls somewhere around both broken and in working order that, after twelve years condensed into an entirely wonderful 164 minutes, reveals itself as quintessential. Mason’s story from childhood through adolescence leaps over Hollywood’s transparent flaw of not being able to truthfully represent the passage of time without suspension of disbelief on the audience’s part and questionable make-up and prosthetic devices. Filmed in pieces over the course of the twelve years, we witness the actors change before us just as they did in real life. The transitions between years are startling only because of how smooth they are—sort of reminding you that time is a man’s creation and is only as valuable as you make it.
Time is both the protagonist and antagonist, but Boyhood‘s expert director Richard Linklater is never that black-and-white. He delights in finding moments that mean something for their specificity and their quirky truth. Perhaps the finest of his achievements in this area is a scene when a teenage Mason in the dark room of a photography classroom interrupted by Mr. Turlington (Tom McTigue) who assigns him to do some work that he doesn’t enjoy doing—shooting a football game. Maybe twenty years from then, Turlington says, Mason will say “thank you sir, for that terrific dark room chat we had that day.” Every critic in the screening room got that one.
Despite the remarkable sense of spontaneous reality, Boyhood was scripted and rehearsed, and should earn Linklater his third Oscar nomination. He enlists Patricia Arquette (Mom) and Ethan Hawke (Dad) as instruments for his shrewd writing (including an original song that asserts “if you never leave home, then you’ll never be late,” and a contemplation on another Star Wars movie); and they both turn in career defining performances and Oscar-worthy efforts themselves. Hawke, who has rode the tumultuous wave of fame ever since the 90s, shows a stability despite the world constantly changing around him that few other actors could match.
The disturbance in Linklater’s almanac on childhood is a haircut. Mason’s shaggy bangs are the symbol for every boy’s instinctual fantasy to roam the backyard and—a little later in life—walk through the front door drunk and smelling of cigarettes without being questioned by his mother. But the world in which Mason struggles to foot himself is much crueler and far less in touch with their selfhood than maybe they should be. Without the veil of commonplace Hollywood magic, but with a magnifying glass focused on a single boy’s heart, Linklater shows us that we are more than a species that can be grouped into only eight types and identified by a computer with only twenty questions (yep, that’s from the movie). With plain old-fashioned magic and a whole lot of genius, the conclusion is hard to miss: We’re still complex emotional human beings, and boys will always be boys, even if they grow up to be a dazed and confused film director.