Sunday, July 27, 2014

[Review] Boyhood

"It's constant, the moments, it's just... it's like it's always right now."

Filmed over the course 12 years, Richard Linklater's Boyhood follows the path of a boy from age 6 to 18, along with his family. We watch them age and change before our eyes. There's no denying that it's an astonishing feat in filmmaking. The passage of time transitions are impressively seamless. No blatant "2 years later" stamps. Everything progresses naturally, and it's really a sight to witness on screen. The date settings are cued by music, movies, books, video games, technology devices and news events relevant to the period. This helps frame the perspective, and it brings some resonant nostalgia where you might find yourself thinking, "I remember that... I can relate to that..."

At the beginning we're introduced to Mason (Ellar Coltrane), just as he's entering grade school. We also meet his older sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), who's in the film almost as often as Mason. Their Mom (Patricia Arquette) is a struggling single parent, and their estranged Dad (Ethan Hawke) is just now re-entering the children's lives. It's anchored from Mason's viewpoint, so we see his ups, downs, and firsts of growing up--it's almost like a subtle checklist of the different things that define a person at a certain age. The film doesn't subvert away from displaying the usual parts of coming-of-age tales and life's generalities--whether it's an encounter with a bully, moving to a different house, a first crush, trying alcohol for the first time.

Mason himself isn't really that fascinating of a character. He's more of an average portrait. All of his surroundings, mainly his sister, mom, and dad have a lot more spunk and personality to them, but Mason's bottledness still makes the character feel authentic. He very much mirrors the film, as it mostly consists of the small and mundane details--nothing is really glorified or highlighted. He actually ends up being a tad boring during his high school years, and the film's pacing begins to falter along with him as it approaches its nearly 3-hour runtime, rendering the first half way more interesting. Even though there are points of drag, a welcomed constant is the excellent dialogue throughout the entire film, much like Linklater's Before trilogy, the words always flows organically, while also carrying some subtext and insightful observations or questions.

And thankfully, the film presents itself as more than just a sprawling technical achievement of watching a boy grow up. It's also an exploration of the modern and nontraditional family. Early on, Mason and Samantha bounce back and forth between their separated, contrasting parents. As time goes on, their mom gets married to a new gentleman who has kids of his own, and a blended family forms. But the guy isn't so gentle, and he turns out to be an abusive alcoholic, which creates some major conflict for everyone. What does Mason's mom have to do to get out of the situation? How do the kids from both sides deal with this, and what happens when the pieces have to break away? This is when the film is at it's strongest and most compelling--when it's Boyhood, it's Girlhood, it's Brotherhood, it's Sisterhood, it's Motherhood, and it's Fatherhood. Boyhood unfortunately loses some of this in its weaker later half. But at least the ending feels right, as it really isn't an ending--but a new beginning.


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