Plot: Spanning twelve years, Mason (Ellar Coltrane) grows from boyhood to manhood as he deals with the separation of his parents, an older sister (Lorelei Linklater), moving, road trips, and everything else that adolescence has to offer.
Let’s get the concept out of the way right now. Director Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise series) started filming this movie back in 2002, and continued to do so every year using the same actors. That’s an interesting premise. But I’m not a man easily fooled by gimmicks. If you have an original concept, but the movie still sucks, then the movie sucks. I don’t care how cool your idea is. I’m not here to hand out participation ribbons. You have to execute it. Does Linklater succeed? Let me put it this way: the film is 166 minutes long, but I could have stayed another twenty minutes. Boyhood is an unquestioned cinematic achievement that doesn’t just ride the coattails of its quirky premise – it celebrates it.
If I don’t care about the characters, the movie is a total waste of time, no matter how unique your set up may be. Thankfully, the film delivers a multitude of fantastic people that I’m happy to watch over a twelve year period. Ellar Coltrane plays Mason and delivers a charismatic performance in the most unconventional way possible. From age five to age eighteen, he barely talks. Mason is very soft-spoken, but also cool, smart, nervous, shy, lazy, assertive, obnoxious, frustrating, he’s basically playing a teenager. This film is pretty much six seasons of The Wonder Years condensed into three hours. The one scene in which Mason does get to talk a lot is fantastic, and is basically a teenage version of one of the Before Sunrise movies.
Is there a plot to this film? Not really. And that’s something you’re just going to have to accept.But it works because of this character. The performance and writing of Mason was the perfect balance of someone you would want to watch in this type of movie. Richard Linklater and Ellar Coltrane nailed it.
The film also has its share of strong supporting characters. Ethan Hawke continues to prove why he’s one of the most underrated actors working in Hollywood today. This is the best I’ve ever seen him. Hawke plays the dad to Mason and his sister, and just as we watch Mason grow up, we see this guy change just as much. This is a great character, pure and simple. Linklater’s daughter Lorelei plays the crucial role of Mason’s older sister, Samantha. She’s great, but to be honest, they really let her shine in the earlier years, but as the film goes on, she’s more of a background character. I’m disappointed they didn’t do more with her in the second half, but this really was Mason’s story.
The real stand out in the film, and someone you will be hearing about come Oscar time is Patricia Arquette as the mom. The movie isn’t filled with a lot of gut-wrenching dramatic moments, aside from one sub plot between the mom and her professor, played wonderfully by Marco Perella. Arquette is the one actor who got the emotional moments, especially in her last scene. She knocks it out of the park, and emphatically gives the performance of her career.
I promise you that critics and audiences will be in full force come Oscar time. They WILL NOT let the Academy forget about this film. You will be hearing about this movie incessantly come nomination time. If this came out in November or December, I would even go as far as to say it’s the front runner, and it still might be. The critical hype is real on this one, and it’s something you should absolutely see in the theater.
As I mentioned before, there aren’t a lot of tension filled scenes, but the film doesn’t need them. The characters keep you plenty engaged with their everyday lives. The film offers a plethora of great minor characters who only pop up in one or two scenes, but serve a crucial purpose, including a couple who give Mason a good kick in the ass.
The fact that cameras were rolling a little bit every year since 2002 is also part of the movie’s charm. The editing is very natural and organic. The material in the conversations feel as though they were filmed recently, as if Linklater knew what the consequences were to some of the historical events that took place. But to the filmmakers, it was their present, or at the very least, recent history.That’s pretty cool. There’s a couple scenes where it served no purpose and was just an excuse to say, “Hey, remember when this happened!” But nine times out ten, it served the story. There’s a point in the film where Mason and his dad talk about Star Wars that was so eerie, it freaked the hell out of me.
I said at the top that I could have watched twenty more minutes, but the film does suffer slightly from Lord of the Rings: Return of the King syndrome in that I thought it was going to end three or four times. But unlike that film, the last moment was perfect. When this movie ended, I really liked it. But as I continue thinking about it, it has really stuck with me. It’s also got a great soundtrack. Even though its release is in the summer, I promise you that critics and audiences will be in full force come Oscar time. They WILL NOT let the Academy forget about this film. You will be hearing about this movie incessantly come nomination time. If this came out in November or December, I would even go as far as to say it’s the front runner, and it still might be. The critical hype is real on this one, and it’s something you should absolutely see in the theater.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (Really Great)
Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.