Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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Boyhood

Film #451

THE PLOT

The life of a young man, Mason, from age 5 to age 18.

Year 3, Film #1

THE GOOD: I don’t think it’s hyperbole when I say that there has never been any film quite like Boyhood. The story itself may not seem that groundbreaking or inventive — it’s about a young kid’s rise into adulthood and going through rites of passage. But if there’s ever been a film where you say the story isn’t the real focus, it’s about the people, Boyhood is the new epitome for that kind of film.

What makes Boyhood so special? Simple: it was filmed with the same actors over a twelve-year span. The kids grew and you could see them physically change right before your eyes almost like watching someone’s life be played in fast-forward. But in addition to the kids, the other adults and accompanying characters grew as well. As part of the writing process, the director Richard Linklater and the actors would get together and brainstorm ideas based upon events that happened to themselves in the past year. By having the story be based in reality and be influenced by the actor’s experiences, the film’s creativity wasn’t constricted in the least. The story for this film was a very fluid entity that changed depending on where the characters took it. And again, you may not view it as groundbreaking because watching a kid grow up has been done before. But Boyhood isn’t like other films that do this. Boyhood actually takes you through the lives of this family and instead of playing out like a story, it plays out as if you were friends of these people that visit their house all the time and see what’s going on. It would be as if someone filmed your neighbors for twelve years: it feels like a documentary but it’s entirely scripted.

Ellar Coltrane (who plays the boy Mason Jr.) and the rest of the cast are also spectacular. Part of this may be due to the nature of the story and that events were culled from things that actually happened to the actors, but I think a large amount of credit can be given to their abilities as well. I mentioned above that the story felt documentary-like even though it’s fictional and scripted. Well the acting feels the same as well. Ellar acts like a young seven-year-old, or thirteen-year-old, or eighteen-year-old boy would act like. After the screening at the Q&A, someone asked a question about what he thinks looking at this finished film. His response was that while the events in the film didn’t happen to him, all the feelings and emotions he goes through in the film he went through in real life. Ellar’s life is very different from Mason Jr.’s but he can relate and connect with him in a very deep way.

Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke who play the mother and father also deserve lots of credit. Although a lot of the focus goes to the kids because they physically change throughout the film, Arquette, Hawke, and the other adults go through just as much change, just not as noticeable. Hawke starts as the kind of person who’s not ready to be a father or settle down for a marriage. As the film goes on, you see the slow and gradual change as he transforms into a more responsible person, marries again, and has another kid. And the journey the mother goes through after her first, second, and third divorces, struggling to go through school again, getting a job, and supporting her two kids is just as transformative.

The character development the happens in this film is development that could only happen over twelve years. It’s not something you can script at day one and expect everything to fall into place. It’s something that has to come naturally and unexpectedly, as it does in real life. And the benefit Boyhood has is that it took place over twelve years. It had the ability to change and adapt depending on what happened to these people and by incorporating these feelings and emotions, it makes for both acting and a story that is familiar, yet wholly unprecedented at the same time.

THE BAD: There are no bad parts to this film. The only possible negative people might find is with their perception of things. As I’ve been saying, the story and acting may not seem groundbreaking or inventive. The fact is, Boyhood is extremely groundbreaking and inventive. But for some people, myself included, it might not be readily apparent. You could be like me and see a trailer for the film, or a synopsis and think there isn’t anything special about this, why should I go see this film? It’s just yet another coming-of-age story. That’s true, it is a coming-of-age story, but it’s not yet another coming-of-age story. Boyhood is its own film and one that can’t be compared with anything else because there isn’t anything else to compare it to.

THE TAKEAWAY: Going into the film I really didn’t know what to expect. I almost forgot about the film until a few weeks ago when Brad Bird (of Pixar fame) mentioned how excited he was which sparked my interest. Coming out of the film I can honestly say that I was blown away. I’ve tried to describe my feelings for this film and how I think it was made so expertly but this is a film where word will never do it justice: you have to see it for yourself. Boyhood has the structure of, and plays like, a narrative feature but it has the feeling and spontaneity of a documentary. It was amazing to watch the entire cast grow up right before my eyes and is something I’ve only seen in my own life. Richard Linlakter and everyone involved in this film took on an ambitious project, but that ambition sure paid off. I cannot recommend enough how much you should go see this film in theaters. As the marketing materials for the film say, it “Isn’t quite like anything else in the history of cinema.” Don’t miss out on history.

Boyhood opens in theaters tomorrow, Friday July 10, 2014. It looks to be very limited and I don’t see any mention of expansion, but be on the lookout. This film is worth it.

THE RATING: 5 out of 5