Lifetime Achievement Award

Too often, I'm so enraptured with digging out the hidden gems of the entertainment world that I overlook the things that are taking up most of the oxygen in the cultural conversation. I've never seen a single episode of Lost. I still haven't caught up with 12 Years a Slave. Whatever the hot video game of the moment is, I wind up playing it two years after everyone else. Once in a while, though, something comes along that I want to jump on while everyone is still talking about it, and Richard Linklater's recent movie Boyhood definitely falls into that category.

I can't believe that anyone with even a casual passing interest in the movie business hasn't heard of it, but just in case, here ya go: Boyhood is about the life and upbringing of a boy named Mason. That's it. Why is a film with a description that mundane such a critical sensation, spawning dozens and dozens of rapturous thinkpieces? Well, it's because of the way it was filmed. Rather than take the usual route of making a movie within a couple of months and using separate actors, makeup, or digital effects to show the characters at different stages of life, Linklater filmed Boyhood over the course of 12 years. Mason. is portrayed by actor Ellar Coltrane, who we watch age right along with the character, from six to eighteen. His mother (Patricia Arquette), father (Ethan Hawke), and sister (Lorelei Linklater, the director's own daughter) are also a big part of the story, and the audience gets the experience of seeing the real effect of the passage of time on people, and not just the characters they play.

Obviously, this is not the first time something like this has been done; I haven't seen any of the other fictional applications of this, but I'm a huge fan of the Up Series, which is basically Boyhood in documentary form. Ironically, given the subject material, I saw this movie about aging and milestones and taking stock of life birthday. How's that for inspiring some deep self-examination? It's difficult to review Boyhood capably, because I'm really weighing it in two different ways: As a movie with a plot and characters and as a cinematic achievement.

Let's take the second part first. As a cinematic achievement, this is flawless. Assembling a movie with a single cast/crew over the course of twelve years is no mean feat, just in the technical sense. There are also any number of methods Linklater could have used to incorporate the aspect of passing time into a fictional narrative, and he avoids a lot of clumsy traps. There are no obvious dissolves between ages. There are no "One Year Later" subtitles. There's no omniscient narrator explaining what's happening. There's no obvious foreshadowing in the beginning that magically pays off in the end. There is no AND THEN THIS HUGE THING HAPPENED THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING event that never happens to actual people. The movie just flows from scene to scene, just like life. So as far as the convention of storytelling goes, I have absolutely no complaints.

But I also have to think about this as a movie, full-stop. And in those terms, I have to admit that as I watched it, I found myself actively wishing that Boyhood was about Mason's sister Samantha, instead. Pretty much everything that Mason goes through, Samantha goes through as well, and the movie's focus centers around the sibling that I frankly find a much less interesting person. Not only is Mason less interesting than Samantha, he's less likable as well. While it is fascinating to watch him come of age, there's no getting around the fact that I don't care much for the personality he develops. Of course, I'm not sure if we're being asked to like him, so it may be unfair to hold the movie accountable for that. But it was frustrating to keep following Mason when Samantha's story is always juuuuust out of reach. I feel similarly about Mason's mother, a role which Patricia Arquette completely knocks out of the park. She's learning and changing just as much as her children over the course of the film, and makes the character relatable in a way no one else pulls off quite as well.

Though I don't think I'll need to revisit this film much in the future (if at all), I'm extremely glad I saw it, and saw it when I did. Even if it's not destined to be my favorite movie of the year, it was a really cool cinematic experience. That makes it tough to assign a "official grade", but I guess I'll just average out my perception of the film's story (B) and the way it approached the medium (A+). It's obviously a hugely influential movie that people will be talking about for a long time to come. If only it had focused on the right kid.

Boyhood: A-


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