Phoenix Film Festival: Boyhood Review

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BoyhoodDirected by Richard Linklater
Written by Richard Linklater

Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater

We are living in the age of great coming of age stories with so many indie and Hollywood movies finally making their break. Just last year we saw three exceptional films with The Spectacular NowThe Way Way Back, and The Kings of Summer all releasing to box office success and critical acclaim.

Back in 2002 indie director Richard Linklater set out to take on the most ambitious coming of age story ever told. Over the last twelve years the director and his crew have worked for a few days every year to tell the fictional story of a boy named Mason as he grows up in Texas. It’s been a huge experiment that has never been done before, but also sounds like it could be one giant gimmick. Can Richard Linklater deliver on the promise and ambition of his project or is the artist overreaching even his most creative potential?

Mason jr (Ellar Coltrane) is just another boy growing up in a homes with split parents. His mother Olivia(Patricia Arquette) is out to try and make a better life for her kids as she goes back to school for a better job. His father Mason Sr(Ethan Hawke) has returned from his travels to raise his try and rejoin the family and connect with his kids. The film follows Mason and his older sister Samantha(Lorelei Linklater) for twelve years as they grow up and learn about the beauty and tragedy of life, love, and the world around them.

Mason’s story is one that we can all relate to as kids and parents. Over the the course of two hours we see this little six year old boy grow up and become a teenager and eventually begin young adulthood right before our very eyes. It’s a surreal experience unlike anything I’ve ever seen and it’s one that I’m sure parents from all walks of life can empathize with. Mason sure does grow-up fast as he deals with abusive step fathers, peer pressure, his first love,  and the beginning of his own self realization.

Mason is the main character, but what is just as interesting to watch is watching his family dynamics evolve. In many ways this story is just as much about his parents and his sister as it is about him. Both of his parents undergo some really interesting developments that really highlights that none of us are ever done changing or growing up. For some of us this transformation is something that is both beautiful and challenging. For others these transitions may lead to darker roads. No matter how much each day seems to be the same, we are always changing all the time even if it takes us years to notice.

Boyhood captures everything it has meant to grow up in the years since 9/11. Mason and his evolution is the heart of the film, but what gives this movie an even more realistic edge is its close attention to detail and clever use of pop culture references and recent history. This boy’s coming of age story is almost inseparable from my own as the Mason deals with the same issues many of us faced growing up in the same world we did. There are nods to the invasion of Iraq, the release of the Nintendo Wii, the 2008 Obama/McCain election, and a plethora pop songs from the last twelve years that everyone is sure to recognize. These nods are subtly implemented in a way that organically sets the scene rather than being shoehorned as clever pop culture references.

The acting in this film is impressively maintained throughout the twelve year shoot. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette have been and always will be great actors, but the real wildcard that the movie was riding on was Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater. Child actors have proven unpredictable as they age into their adult roles and this movie could have been a massive disappointment had these actors lost their mojo in their older years, but Ellar’s talent and sophistication grows with his age and he turns in a really touching and believable performance over that ages with his character twelve years.

Richard Linklater has already proven himself as one of the most successful experimental filmmakers in the business with his shifting POV dramedy Slacker and the Before Sunrise trilogy. He continues to outdo himself as he finds a consistent tone throughout the twelve year story that is funny, heartfelt, and well…boyish. It had to have taken a tremendous amount of work to develop this script as the times, actors, and circumstances of our own world changed, but Linklater knocks it out of the park with his script that feels so natural you’d almost think you were watching a really well shot documentary.

This movie one of a kind and has a feeling of realism that not even the most relatable coming of age stories have been able to capture. This isn’t a movie that is highlighting a single crucial moment in a characters life, but is watching this boy face many crucial moments and decisions. This is the definitive coming of age story for my generation thanks to its unprecedented scope and honest portrayals of the issues we’ve faced on a micro scale. No other movie to date has encapsulated these formative years of growing up like Boyhood

Boyhood is a true feat of filmmaking thanks to the cast, crew, and filmmakers who were willing to take a risk to make something so ambitious and outside of conventional movie making. The movie opened with Coldplay’s  Strawberry Swing which put a huge smile on my face. Despite the drama and the harder times Mason faces throughout the movie, I couldn’t help but smile all throughout the film because it so perfectly encapsulates what it means to grow up.

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About the Author

Caleb Masters
Caleb is film, TV, and gaming buff who loves to write and has a knack for stirring the conversation via podcasts. He's got an undergrad degree in literature and loves loving fun things. To hear his thoughts on all the latest and greatest in pop culture, food, beer, and his gamer's rage, Follow him on Twitter @bigcalkenobi91
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