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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 10.71%
Average: 3.57%
Pretty Bad: 3.57%
Total Crap: 14.29%

3 reviews, 10 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"A Boy's Life"
5 stars

Thanks to the constant stream of technological advances that Hollywood seems to put forth every few years--ranging from the early experiments with sound and color to the current state-of-the-art developments involving CGI effects and presenting a noticeably dingier and duller screen image while convincing moviegoers to pay an extra $3 a head for that "privilege"--it seems that there are precious few things out there that cannot be presented convincingly within the context of a feature film. Ironically, one of those things is something that all of us experience in our lives and that is the passage of time. Oh sure, films can recreate different time periods with an astonishing degree of detail and fidelity but when it comes to presenting the passage of a few years in the lives of the characters on display, they tend to come up short because while they may be getting older, the people playing them are not since the entire film, regardless of the storyline, is being shot within a relatively compressed timespan. As a result, the filmmakers are forced to rely on costumes, hair & makeup and music cues to signify to passing of time and if they aren't done with the upmost care (as was the case with the ghastly old-age makeup at the end of "Jersey Boys"), the results can be downright embarrassing.

Throughout his career as one of America's most celebrated indie filmmakers, Richard Linklater has often played with how time is dealt with in a cinematic context with narratives that deal with timeframes that are either highly compressed (with several of his films, such as "Dazed and Confused," "Suburbia," "Tape" and the individual chapters of the trilogy consisting of "Before Sunrise," "Before Sunset" and "Before Midnight," all taking place within the confines of a single evening) or highly extended (such as the dreamscape of "Waking Life" or the span of 18 years that encompasses the aforementioned trilogy). With his latest project, the magnificent "Boyhood," he has undertaken his boldest experiment to date in regards to capturing the passage of time on film with his story observing the evolution of an ordinary boy over the course of a dozen years from pre-adolescence to his arrival at college and adulthood. The result is not just one of the very best movies of the year and of Linklater's career but one of the most incisive and observant looks at the joys, pains and perils of growing up that has ever been put on a movie screen.

As you may have heard, Linklater has accomplished this by assembling a small core cast, including Patricia Arquette and Linklater mainstay Ethan Hawke, his own daughter Lorelei and an unknown seven-year-old boy named Ellar Coltrane and, starting in 2002, quietly filming scenes with them for a few days each year over the course of the next dozen years. The end result is a film clocking in at just under three hours in which the passage of time is charted not by the big historical events of the days or the top hits on the soundtrack but by the length of a haircut, a sudden growth spurt or a new town--the things that tend to hold a much greater emphasis in the life of a child. This sort of long-range filmmaking has been done before in the past--most notably in Michael Apted's extraordinary ongoing "Up" documentary series that has looked in on a group of British schoolchildren every seven years since they were seven and, to a certain extent, in the "Harry Potter" movies--but those projects involved multiple films spread out over a long period of time. By confining its 12-year-sprawl to one extended narrative, "Boyhood" startles and amazes viewers by allowing them to literally watch people growing up before our eyes in a sort of time-lapse approach to cinema that is uncommonly engrossing.

Much like life itself, "Boyhood" has no preordained narrative that it is forced to pay heed to as it follows its young hero, Mason (Coltrane). When we first see him, he is a dreamy-eyed boy who goofs off with friends, suffers from the annoyance that is older sister Samantha (Linklater) and silently observes the tensions that still exist between his divorced parents (Hawke and Arquette) as he and his sister shuttle between them. As the years go by, we watch as he matures both physically and emotionally. There are growth spurts and haircuts of varying lengths of styles. There are the artistic inclinations that eventually find a focus when he receives a camera as a gift. There are the first fumbling experiences with beer and pot that happily do not lead to disaster. There are the equally confusing encounters with the mystery of girls that grows from looking at the underwear section of a catalogue to first love and, inevitably, his first heartbreak. It all culminates as he prepares to begin college and the sight of him about to move on to that next stage is, in its own way, just as thrilling and satisfying a conclusion as any that I can recall seeing of late.

As we see Mason growing up and changing before our eyes, we observe the same evolution in those close to him. Samantha starts off as a bratty, brainy know-it-all--the type who deliberately wakes up her brother with a screeching rendition of "Oops, I Did It Again" and then makes sure that he gets the blame when their mom comes in to complain about the racket--goes through her teen years with the normal amounts of petulance and comes out the other end as a pensive twenty-something who is just realizing that she may not have all the answers after all. Mom struggles to make a better life for herself and her kids despite atrocious taste in men (that manifests itself with two additional failed marriages) and manages to not only transform herself in unexpected ways but also helps change the lives of others in the process. As for Dad, he starts off as the perennial overgrown adolescent who pops in and out of their lives with his GTO and long-winded bull session-style monologues that his kids have zero interest in and finds himself finally being dragged into adulthood at last as he begins another family and, in one of the more startling revelations, gets rid of his prized hot rod in exchange for a SUV.

One of the things that is so refreshing about "Boyhood" is that, for the most part, it doesn't rely on big dramatic beats to put its story across. Aside from one section involving Mom's remarriage to one of her professors--a change that brings a pair of new siblings and a certain level of comfort into their lives that is brutally ripped away when he is revealed to be an abusive alcoholic--the film assumes Linklater's usual narrative approach that focuses less on dramatic plot twists and more on amiably aimless drifting about while talking and pontificating about everything from the secrets of the universe to speculations about whether there will be any more "Star Wars" movies. And yet, even without any obvious narrative drive, the events still accumulate a certain power over its extended running time (which, it should be said, just flies by) and when things do happen, such as when he breaks up with the pretty teen queen Sheena (Zoe Graham) for all the usual silly high school reasons, they pack a far greater punch than they might have in a more conventionally structured film.

In a film packed with enormous risks and challenges, the biggest of the bunch for Linklater was to somehow find and center an entire film around a young boy who could not only be compelling to a movie audience but would continue to do so for the next dozen years. In Ellar Coltrane, he has found just that person and the result is one of the most miraculous feats of casting that you will ever see. One could argue that he isn't acting per se and that it is the circumstances surrounding the production that lend his performance its power but that is simply not the case. Whether he is working opposite the other newcomers in the cast or with pros like Arquette and Hawke, he more than holds his own and possesses the kind of off-hand screen charisma that cannot be denied. Whether this is a one-off or whether he chooses to make a real go of it, Coltrane has delivered one hell of a performance here.

Happily, he is also surrounded by others who are just as fascinating to watch. As the parents, both Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are spectacular in the ways that they show in for subtle ways how their characters have grown and changed and their final scene together--in which they come together at a graduation party and marvel at the time that has gone by and the man that their son has become--may be the single best thing that either of them has ever done before in a film. As Mason's sister, Lorelei Linklater may have been cast out of convenience but she is just as much of a find here as Coltrane--if her sprightly and utterly engaging presence became a regular sight on movie screens, we would all be far better off for it.

Richard Linklater has been making movies for over a quarter-century now and while he has never quite achieved the same level of name recognition as such fellow American indie filmmakers of his era as Quentin Tarantino or Steven Soderbergh, he has quietly accumulated one of the most formidable filmographies of our time--with no fewer than eight feature films and a television series produced during the period he was also working on "Boyhood"--that includes cult favorites like "Slacker" and "Dazed and Confused," mainstream efforts like "School of Rock" and "The Bad News Bears" and such one-of-a-kind works as "Waking Life" and the "Before Sunrise" trilogy. This is a pretty stunning output--any one of those films would be the clear high-water mark for most directors and even his one real misstep, the awkward adaptation of "Fast Food Nation," was at least a noble and ambitious failure. Now with "Boyhood," he has presented us with a film that stands both as a bracingly original work and as a grand summation of the themes and ideas that he has been exploring throughout his career. Although low-key to the extreme and bereft of any special effects other than the visual amazement of the growing process, this is a story that is, in its own way, as epic and transcendent as "2001: A Space Odyssey" and it begs the question of where Linklater can possibly go from this point that won't seem somehow puny by comparison. I don't know but if there was ever a filmmaker up for that challenge, it is Richard Linklater.

Author's Note: "Boyhood" has been given an "R" rating by the pinheads at the MPAA, essentially for language and the depiction of some mild experiments with beer and pot. Meanwhile, "The Purge: Anarchy," in which people are shot, chopped, stabbed, tortured and set aflame for nearly 100 straight minutes, has received the exact same rating. If you have a kid who expresses interest in seeing "Boyhood," rest assured that there is nothing there that anyone in their teens cannot handle and be pleased that your child is smart, thoughtful and discerning. If you have a kid who wants to go see "The Purge: Anarchy" this weekend, be assured that I weep for them and you.

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originally posted: 07/18/14 08:26:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Berlin Film Festival For more in the 2014 Berlin Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2014 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 SXSW Film Festival For more in the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Nantucket Film Festival For more in the 2014 Nantucket Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Independent Film Festival Boston For more in the 2014 Independent Film Festival Boston series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell long but really good 4 stars
7/26/15 Joe Smaltz Gave up. Too boring seemed like I watched for 12 years. 1 stars
6/05/15 Bents some scenes great, others terrible, averaged out to average. 3 stars
2/26/15 deajeng the only reason why this movie got high rating because linklater made it in 12 years 1 stars
2/15/15 guena idot, idiot idiot 1 stars
2/14/15 jason gracio oscar best picture? no fuck no.... 1 stars
1/15/15 Langano Couldn't get through it, bored me to tears. 2 stars
7/31/14 David Really good movie. It's a bit long. 4 stars
7/15/14 laura Good but overrated in terms of "masterpiece" 4 stars
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  11-Jul-2014 (R)
  DVD: 06-Jan-2014


  DVD: 06-Jan-2014

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