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article imageReview: Transformative 'Boyhood' transcends traditional film-making Special

By Sylvannia Soulet     Jul 17, 2014 in Entertainment
I was fortunate enough to catch an advance screening of Richard Linklater’s film “Boyhood”, and I was thrilled to be one of the first people in Canada to see it before its nationwide release this Friday.
Boyhood is your classic coming-of-age tale with a unique angle to its storytelling. The passage of time is documented in real-time throughout the film; that is, the boy you see growing from child to adult is the same actor, Ellar Coltrane, filmed over the span of 12 years (in fact, the actual title of the movie was originally 12 Years; Linklater changed the title so as to avoid confusion with Steve McQueen’s Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave.) Think of Boyhood as a time capsule of sorts, unironically capturing those prominent moments of the past decade (music plays a significant role in Boyhood, weaving its way in seamlessly in the songs the children sing to the background music chosen for certain scenes).
Throughout the film we follow young Mason as he lives the tumultuous reality of being a child in a single-parent household. His mother (played masterfully by Patricia Arquette) cycles through a bevy of selfish boyfriends and abusive husbands while still striving to provide a better life for her kids. Ethan Hawke plays Mason’s biological father, who remains a fixture in his son’s life, even though he doesn’t live with him (Hawke is no stranger to Linklater films; he played opposite Julie Delpy in the Before Midnight trilogy. It's actually a bit of a mind-trip to see the actor's aging process condensed into one film after seeing it spread out over three). We see Mason hop from home to home, from stepfather to stepfather, and through it all evolving and growing, trying to make sense of it all as the world seems to move along with him.
Linklater is in rare form with Boyhood, as this seems to be his most sincere movie to date. There’s the occasional nod to some of Linklater’s previous projects. The “boy will be boys” admission of guilt by Mason for drinking and smoking pot is reminiscent of the ending sequence in Dazed and Confused, and the long shot of Mason chatting with a blonde-haired girl on a bike harkens back to the carefree exchanges between Hawke and Delpy in the Before Midnight trilogy.
What I find fascinating about this movie is that the story is NOT wholly centred around Mason’s growth, but also simultaneously documents trials and tribulations of the mother as she tries her damndest to do right by her precocious daughter and lackadaisical son. Linklater paints a truly tragic character, and Patricia Arquette’s performance sets to brings her to life. Perhaps my lack of a Y chromosome coloured my bias, but most of my sympathy went not to Mason but to his mother, for what woman can’t relate with making poor but well-meaning choices and suffering for it? You want to see her succeed, but in the end you may question if she had truly gotten all that she deserved out of life. Arquette shines through in my eyes as the breakout character in the film.
That said, it’s interesting to note that once Mason hits puberty, he stops being the most endearing character in his own movie, preferring instead to settle into the typical trope of the angsty, wayward teenager for the remainder of the screenplay; this is only acceptable because it feels so authentic. It is equally disquieting to see the once rambunctious youth Samantha (played by Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei) become the subdued, insecure, somewhat disinterested teenager in the latter portions of the film. Yet I can still appreciate the character for her sincerity; the aloofness at that age is real (I have a teenaged sister who seems less and less enthused when I come to visit her during the holidays; I’d like to hope I can attribute that to her raging hormones.)
There are some scenes that appear to have no resolution — when Mason experiences affection from a girl who sympathizes with his bad hair day, the fate of Mason and Samantha’s half-siblings and the middle-school boys who terrorize him in the washroom — but honestly , that is where the true beauty of Boyhood lies. The story is left to grow and progress organically, nothing feels forced or contrived. A lesser (read: vapid, big-budget Hollywood) movie wouldn’t be able to resist injecting closure, and would try to shoehorn in a conclusion, regardless of it being appropriate. Plain and simple, this is a movie about life, something which isn’t always tied up in a neat, tidy package, or whose meaning can’t be summed in so many pretty words. (There’s a poignant scene where a mature Mason candidly asks his father the latter, to which I’m immediately reminded of the French Waiter scene in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. The same amount of truth can be gleaned from Idle’s response as in Hawke’s, I suppose.)
Overall, Boyhood is a film worth checking out, if only to experience the slow yet deliberate transformation of the main character from child to adult, and in the span of under three hours. You’ll be thoroughly entertained, but you’ll also feel wistful as you watch Mason grow up into a man. Try to remember while watching Boyhood that it’s not so much about where it takes you, but how exactly it got you to that point. Therein lies the film’s true brilliance.
Boyhood opens in Canadian cinemas July 18.
More about boyhood, Richard Linklater, Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, lorelei linklater
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