If there’s one movie that every new adult should see this year, it’s “Boyhood.” While we’ve gotten a lot of great coming-of-age stories in the past couple years like “The Spectacular Now” and “The Way Way Back,” Richard Linklater’s extraordinary film takes the genre to unfeasible new levels.
In 2002, young Ellar Coltrane was cast to play the film’s protagonist, a little boy named Mason. “Boyhood” was then filmed and written over a 12-year period, following Mason from age 5 to age 18. Throughout this entire process, Coltrane continued to reprise his role as Mason.
Not only is “Boyhood” one of the boldest coming-of-age stories ever put on film, it’s one of the absolute boldest experimental films ever made. The fact that a picture like this got off the ground at all is an achievement in itself.
Anyone who grew up this previous era will connect with “Boyhood” in some way, shape, or form. The film perfectly captures a generation consumed by iPods, Facebook, “Dragon Ball Z,” Britney Spears, “Harry Potter,” “Twilight,” “High School Musical,” “The Dark Knight,” “Halo,” and “Wii Sports.”
“Boyhood” does so much more than merely reference popular culture highlights from the past decade, however. It’s a picture-perfect slice of life that feels all too real to be fiction. Had it only cast unknown actors, it probably could have been mistaken for a documentary.
Of course, then we would have been deprived of a couple of career-best performances.
Patricia Arquette never hits a wrong note as Mason’s mother, who’s constantly stressed and on the brink of losing it. For someone raising two kids on her own and trying to get her college degree, though, she’s doing the best that any human being possibly could. Ethan Hawke is just as great as Mason’s father, an energized Obama backer who is constantly smoking cigarettes and probably something else too.
Still trying to grow up himself, he makes for a solid weekend dad although he might not make for the most reliable full-time dad. Mason also has a stepfather played by Marco Perella, who seems nice enough at first, but turns out to be an abusive alcoholic. We’ve all known a parental figure like the adults here, and the filmmakers never turn any of them into stereotypical caricatures.
In addition to the adult characters, “Boyhood” also contains some of the most authentic representations of children you’ll ever see. Linklater cast his daughter, Lorelei Linklater, as Mason’s sister, Samantha. Like Coltrane, she also grew up working on this film.
Most movies tend to depict siblings as complete strangers that either never talk or are constantly at each other’s throats. The relationship between Mason and Samantha is a far more believable, though.
Sure, they argue and tease each other, but there’s also a strong friendship that lasts throughout the years. It also helps that neither Mason nor Samantha are depicted as child stars that always spout witty one-liners that were obviously written by adults. They’re written as real kids that sometimes don’t know what to say or are likely imitating a character they saw on TV.
Mason himself is an extremely unique protagonist. He’s quiet and sometimes has trouble in school, but is a generally nice person. One might argue that Mason isn’t the most interesting character and to an extent that’s understandable.
He’s essentially just a normal kid who acts as a blank slate for the audience to wear. This actually works wonderfully, though, as the film isn’t really about Mason so much as it is about witnessing a life play out through an adolescent’s eyes. Linklater does just that and what an enchanting life journey he takes us on.
So many movies feel like they need to retrain themselves to basic three act structures. “Boyhood” defies this unwritten rule, showing a person live their life rather than trying to turn it into a structured narrative.
And you know what?
That’s pretty fascinating, just as life itself is much more fascinating than we give it credit. Not every movie needs to follow the same formula we’ve seen a million times before. Not every movie needs to be about a hitman, bank heist or giant robot. Not every movie needs a forced love triangle, action climax or last-minute misunderstanding. Sometimes just showing life play out is all you need.
Linklater has never been one to shy away from ambitious filmmaking. In “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset” and “Before Midnight,” he told the love story between two people over the course of 20 years.
In “Boyhood,” he beautifully condenses a person’s entire youth into 166 minutes. Some might shy away from “Boyhood” based on its running time of almost three hours. It goes by much quicker than you’d think, however, just like childhood.
• Ahwatukee native and Desert Vista graduate Nick Spake is a student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at nspake@asu.