Saturday, September 06, 2014

Movie Review: "Boyhood"

Starring Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater and Ethan Hawke
Directed by Richard Linklater

Richard Linklater has never been a filmmaker afraid to take chances, be it using rotoscoping animation techniques throughout entire movies (“Waking Life” and “A Scanner Darkly”) or crafting a romantic drama that’s played out over three productions and nearly 20 years (the “Before” trilogy). In fact, the latter movies likely were a precursor to his decision to film his latest creation, “Boyhood,” over a 12-year period.

Focused on a young boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane) between the ages of 6-18, Linklater’s family drama — which he also wrote — demonstrates the power of a story simply told. It’s a film devoid of car chases, explosions, tearjerking tragedies or credibility-straining situations. It’s life played out over the passage of time, and how a family develops, changes and learns about one another.

That’s not saying that it’s all love and happiness in this family’s household. By the time the film opens, the parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke — a frequent Linklater collaborator) have already divorced, with Mom forced to provide for herself, 6-year-old Mason and 8-year-old Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). Her struggles in navigating single parenthood are played out in a number of early telling scenes (arguing with a boyfriend about putting her kids before him, and the need to move to further her education).

After an extended time away from his children, Mason Sr. comes back into the picture as the seemingly responsibility-eschewing father who gets to whisk the kids away every other weekend to have fun at the bowling alley and baseball games. In the early scenes with Mason Sr., you feel you have the character pegged. But much like Linklater does with many of the people populating the movie, you see how time can change perceptions.

Many movies have offered slice-of-life vignettes on growing up in certain time periods. Some have spent time with characters over a summer or fast forwarded their lives as youngsters to adults. But I can’t think of any that have demonstrated the patience and perception that “Boyhood” has documenting the mix of pleasure and pain of growing up. That doesn’t just apply to the kids in this one.

Clearly, a movie that doesn’t have action sequences or a big budget to rely on, is rather dependent on a great script and performances to match. To its credit, “Boyhood” is strong in both areas. So many scenes play out with a deft ear for dialogue and the way most people converse with one another, you begin to wonder if some of them were biographical. Both kids, who grow up on screen before your eyes, never make you think you’re watching actors playing siblings. You believe it, particularly with the focused gaze of Coltrane in the central role as Mason. His character is not a big talker, but is definitely taking in his surroundings at all times. Arquette, who many may know from her role on the former NBC drama “Medium,” hits new heights as a mother doing the best she can for her children. Hawke takes what could have been a potentially cliched role and adds real depth.

Even though the movie clocks in at 165 minutes, it’s time you’re glad to have spent with this family. And there's no doubt it will make you think about time with your own family in the process.

Grade: A
(Rated R for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use.)

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