Going In

I’ve been a fan of Richard Linklater since a friend showed me a VHS bootleg of Slacker after discovering we had a mutual affection for Clerks.  I remember not being quite sure what I had just watched, but it was different, it was funny, and there was a lot of material to turn over in my mind for a long time.

All the fawning accolades and award nominations for Boyhood make me suspicious, though. Rarely do so many critics agree, and when they do, it’s usually for pretentious crap like Crash that you’re “supposed to” like.

So I’m expecting Boyhood to be either a huge glop of syrupy Oscar-bait, or the magnum opus of Linklater’s career.

Review

Boyhood tells the coming-of-age story of Mason, a millennial growing up in Texas, raised with his sister by his single working mother as she navigates her own relationship problems. He spends weekends with his absentee father as he struggles to fit in and find himself.

As Christopher Nolan pushes the boundaries of big-budget blockbusters, Richard Linklater does the same for intimate indie flicks. The gimmick for Boyhood is that it was shot over a period of 12 years, using the same set of actors as they age throughout that time.  As technique goes, it is a mastercraft of film-making and a big experiment that paid off.

But be warned: this is NOT a Hollywood story.  It is possibly the most plain and ordinary story I’ve seen on the silver screen.  Nothing is “punched-up” for dramatic effect or entertainment value.  This is one reason I enjoyed it so much, and one reason that many people will be turned off – even bored – by it.

The flow of Boyhood feels like flipping through a scrapbook of Mason’s memories, with only the most memorable and formative moments remembered – such as parents arguing, that first-day-at-a-new-school nervousness, going out in public after a bad haircut, or when a mentor offers an impactful piece of advice at just the right time.

Unlike most movies that maintain a steady and connected flow from one scene to the next, Boyhood often skips ahead suddenly, leaving many incidents feeling unresolved, like getting harassed by bullies in the bathroom. Sometimes major leaps are made with very little transition, as when Dad shows up suddenly clean-cut and driving a minivan instead of his signature muscle car.

On the whole, Mason’s life seems very true-to-life, and I easily related to him. Some of his moments could have been adapted from my own life.  I caught myself a few times anticipating a little extra Hollywood drama (“they’re gonna get hit by a car” or “someone should step out of that alleyway and stab him”). But the lack of artificial drama made the real moments feel much more intense.

I need to make a confession: I’ve been lazy and am writing this more than a week later. But this turns out to be a good thing, because I can relay the strong resonance it’s had for me.  I find myself trying to construct what my own Linklater-directed movie would look like — what moments would be worthy? Boyhood is fantastic fuel for introspection.

Because of this and the extraordinary approach to film-making, Boyhood is a remarkable movie. I’m guessing it will win many awards, some deserved and some snatched from better contenders. But the true test will take time: will people be talking about Boyhood 10 years from now?

Conclusion

Linklater was there when the US independent film movement got traction in the 90s, and he’s still pulling serious weight and making original and remarkable contributions.

As a reviewer I am ambivalent. I personally enjoyed Boyhood quite a lot. But it is a movie I would recommend ONLY to film buffs and filmmakers.

If you’re in the mood for a more traditional and entertaining coming-of-age story, how about Dazed and Confused?

Boyhood Review
Storytelling6.5
Craftsmanship9.5
Performances6.5
Satisfaction6.5
The Good
  • Unique approach to movie-making
  • True-to-life story
  • Sticks with you
The Bad/Ugly
  • Low on the "entertainment" scale
  • Would not recommend for general audiences
  • Mom deserves a Lifetime movie spin-off
7.3Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)
0.0

About The Author

Justin

I'm a video game programmer, just like Chev Chelios. I've loved movies all of my life, favor substance over style, and try to have high standards and an open mind.