TMN Movie Review: "Boyhood"

Photo Credit: IFC Films

Rating: R
Length: 166 minutes
Release Date: July 18, 2014
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Genre: Drama

"Boyhood" is a film unlike any other before it, having been filmed with the same cast over the course of more than a decade. The story follows a young boy named Mason who lives with his sister and estranged-from-one-another parents, and it follows him as he experiences the challenges of becoming a teenager and later a mature adult. Aside from its unique production, the film also offers a nostalgia-laden story, excellent use of cultural references and great acting. Without a doubt, "Boyhood" is one of the must-see films of 2014.

Six-year-old Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is a boy who is utterly imaginative and keenly observant, but he is also very distracted when it comes to his schoolwork. Nonetheless, he is still sharp, able to see even the glimmer of affection between his mother and one of her college professors before they fall in love. His sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), on the other hand, excels at both school and sports. Their mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) does her best to provide for her children, but she is repelled by their father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke). Over the course of the film, she dates and even marries several men, each of whom has his own flaws to hide.

When Mason Sr. returns from a long trip to Alaska, Olivia is furious, still wounded from his past misdeeds. Despite his annoyance with Olivia, Mason still tries to be the fun, cool dad his kids want to see. Wanting to provide a better life for herself and her children, Olivia moves her family to Houston so she can go to college. Young Mason and Samantha face various challenges in moving to a new school, and Olivia falls in love with a professor who doesn't turn out to be as genuine and kind as she had hoped. Some time later, Mason Sr. shows up again to hang out with his kids and talk about their lives. He also convinces them to campaign for Obama in the 2008 presidential election.

As Mason and Samantha struggle through their teenage years, they continue to deal with their sporadically present father, meet yet another stepdad and see their mother graduate and become a teacher. Eventually, Samantha is off to college, and Mason discovers his knack for art photography. In his high school years, he also develops a crush on a beautiful girl (Zoe Graham). As the film ends, Mason is preparing to leave for college, where new adventures await him.

Richard Linklater clearly took a gamble with "Boyhood," gathering the cast together a few days per year for 12 years before the film was finally finished. However, audiences have not been disappointed. Viewers love the experience of watching the same actors grow older rather than seeing several different actors play the same character or one actor slathered in aging makeup. It feels genuine, and despite the fact that the story is fictional, viewers may feel as though these characters could be their dear friends or family in real life. Although the documentary series "Up" has also followed a cast of characters over stretches of time, "Boyhood" is still unique in that it tells a comprehensible coming-of-age story. The long-term filming is no more than a cinematic tool for a more creative end.

One of the most compelling aspects of "Boyhood" is the way each year seamlessly passes with gentle hints. Rather than boldly stating "Five Years Later" on the screen, Linklater inserts subtle cultural references into the story to convey the passage of time. This method gives the film a more genuine feel as most viewers can recognize each experience, from the release of one of the "Harry Potter" books to a conversation about a "Star Wars" sequel. This also adds a touch of nostalgia to the film, making it even more relatable for audiences.

This tale about growing up and learning from one's mistakes is both visually and intellectually appealing, but it is the cast of aging actors that is truly deserving of recognition. Coltrane transitions beautifully from an adorable boy to a sullen, thoughtful teenager, displaying commendable acting talents. Hawke brings his character to life with the perfect balance of charisma and emotion, and even Lorelei Linklater, daughter of director Richard Linklater, displays a great range of emotions in her acting.

Although some audiences might skip "Boyhood" due to its perceived appeal to younger audiences, this drama is sure to attract viewers of all ages and backgrounds over time. As Mason grows older, viewers feel a sense of nostalgia in this coming-of-age story that rings true for so many. Even if the nearly 3-hour run time is a bit intimidating, viewers are sure to enjoy every minute of this unique cinematic production.