Groundbreaking if familiar
Director Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” is a weighty piece of cinema, a story in the life of a boy and his family shot painstakingly in short sequences over a 12 year period, chronicling almost an entire childhood right before our eyes. For its craft alone and the patience and care with which “Boyhood” is produced, Linklater deserves high praise. But when it’s over, it will leave you wanting more and wishing you cared more about the central character than you do.
Ellar Coltrane is receiving a lot of accolades for his performance as Mason, who we first meet as a six-year old. Over the course of nearly three hours Mason ages, sometimes dramatically, until the final frames of the film when he graduates high school. Naturally, all of the principals also age, and Coltrane is surrounded by excellent actors including Lorelei Linklater (Richard’s daughter) as Mason’s sister, Patricia Arquette as his mom Olivia, and Ethan Hawke as his dad.
A central theme of their story is Olivia’s earnest desire as a single mother to keep the family moving in positive directions despite her poor (though well-intentioned) choices in husbands. The individual performances make up for some predictable storytelling involving abusive step-dads, school bullies, and the typically immature vagaries of adolescence.
Make no mistake, Linklater’s filmmaking here is as groundbreaking as it is intimate. But in terms of thematic originality it can’t hold a candle to some of the other films from his incredibly diverse canon, including “Bernie,” “School of Rock,” and “Waking Life.”
No doubt audiences will relate to Mason’s struggle to find his identity among his constantly shifting familial environment. He longs to spend more time with his affable biological father. Hawke is superb as the well-meaning but often absent parent, and Mason simply can’t connect with his step-dads. Arquette is achingly good as the rock in Mason’s life despite her bad marriages, but the film rarely goes beneath the surface of any of the film’s supporting characters.
At almost three hours, “Boyhood” feels comprehensive in scope and genuine yet bittersweet to a fault. But it offers little in the way of closure and perhaps this is Linklater’s intention. “Boyhood” provides a remarkable, occasionally touching eyewitness to the passage of time in a boy’s life—but when it’s over we feel strangely detached from the young man who we just watch grow up.
Rated “R” for language, including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use.