Film review: BOYHOOD, from Built For Speed

Boyhood is a touching and lyrical film but the story about how it was made is more impressive than what we see on screen. Director Richard Linklater constructed it over 12 years and filmed it in segments between his other projects.  A synopsis of the film might bring to mind the Seven-Up series as it follows a young boy named Mason’s life through childhood and adolescence into adulthood. Mason is played by the same actor Ellar Coltrane across the film’s 12-years so we literally see him grow up on camera.

This film is essentially a study of the forces afflicting young men’s lives, namely, troubled, even damaged parents, peer pressure, girlfriends, crap jobs and the advice of earnest, well-meaning but often deluded adults.   At times its story of uncertain youth besieged by others’ expectations and notions of responsibility recalls The Graduate.

The film also movingly examines the effect of isolation and rootlessness as Mason’s mother (Patricia Arquette) endures several fraught marriages with assorted losers which causes the family to constantly move leaving Mason little opportunity to makes lasting friendships.

While Ellar Coltrane is fine as Mason – transitioning before our eyes from rambunctious child to, introverted teen to thoughtful young man – his character is a little benign and could have done with some more grit, ambiguity and emotional conflict.  He’s really just a likeable chilled young guy.  Growing up beside him is Richard Linklater’s own daughter Lorelai who is superbly obnoxious as Mason’s bratty sister Samantha.  Patricia Arquette is also excellent as Mason’s struggling mother.  The best performance, though, comes from Richard Linklater’s muse Ethan Hawke who, as Mason’s dead beat dad, is still clawing his way to maturity. Amid the supporting cast, Marco Perella and Andrew Villareal give the film much needed dramatic intensity as two of Arquette’s drunken idiot husbands.

This is not a plot driven film instead, like Dazed and Confused and the Before trilogy it immerses us in the characters’ lives. This is actually a more personal film than Linklater’s earlier works, though, as it focuses so closely on Mason across the 12 years. 

One of the film’s few failings is that it occasionally skates over dramatic high points by suddenly jumping forward a few years in the characters’ lives. Also, with the focus on family drama, the film sometimes slips into soapy territory.  On each occasion, though, it’s quickly saved by Linklater’s typical witty and insightful dialogue and the cast’s naturalistic performances.  A superb soundtrack that includes Wilco, The Arcade Fire, Flaming Lips and Bob Dylan doesn’t hurt either.

The remarkable looking roto-scoped Waking Life aside, Linklater’s films are generally not visual feasts and Boyhood is no different. The production values are quite low-key and at times have a tele-movie quality.

It seems that some of the hype and critical salivating over this film has been due to its unusual and technically challenging 12-year gestation.  If this film had been made under more conventional circumstances it would still be an impressive examination of family life and another showcase of Linklater’s superb dialogue but I suspect it wouldn’t be hailed as the masterpiece it has been.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2.

Genre: Drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Richard Linklater.

Release date: 4th Sept 2014

Running time: 165 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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