By Steve Greene | Criticwire January 20, 2014 at 2:25PM
Sundance audiences are getting used to anticipating long-gestating Richard Linklater films (one more next year for the think piece!), and between 2013's "Before Midnight" and "Boyhood," which premiered last night, there's good reason to believe those high expectations have been met. "Before Midnight" repeatedly topped critics' lists last year, including our Best Reviewed Indies tally and our end-of-Sundance poll.
Now, "Boyhood" seems poised to follow in its footsteps after two impressive screening showings. Linklater shot the film over a 12-year period, featuring the same actor (Ellar Coltrane, who also appeared in Linklater's "Fast Food Nation"), continuously charting the growth of central character Mason over those years. Already drawing favorable comparisons to Michael Apted's "7 Up" series, this figures to be a title in the film conversation for months to come.
There will surely be more reviews that go live in the days to come, but here is some of the initial feedback:
Rather than exist merely as an observational exercise, the film stood out to Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman for emphasizing its structured nature:
"Linklater, of course, is a storyteller who reveres the art of naturalism, and Boyhood, though it’s a genuine movie, full of bustlingly staged scenes and performances and motifs and arcs, has the feel of a staged documentary about a fictional character."
Guy Lodge at Hitfix describes how the film's emotional impact is a testament to the working relationship that Linklater and Coltrane have forged over that time:
"One wonders how much of this character study has been influenced by Linklater’s own shifting relationship with his young leading man, who can’t have been cast with any degree of certainty over who or what he would become. That’s a thrilling risk for a filmmaker to take, and Coltrane rewards his director’s gumption by blossoming into an actor of genuine charisma, blessed with lanky physical grace and drolly behind-the-beat delivery."
"'Boyhood' does sag a little bit in the unremarkable years—adolescent mundaneness isn’t very cinematic—but it’s all arguably part of the master plan. 'Boyhood' could’ve perhaps used some bigger moments to really emotionally hook the viewer, but then that would be going against its raison d'être. Linklater isn’t interested in big swelling, dramatic moments but instead finds an overall snowballing sinew in the overlooked corners."
Eric Kohn takes time in his Indiewire review to single out the rest of the film's ensemble, who make the journey along with Mason:
"'Boyhood' leaves ample room for its supporting characters to define the conditions of Mason's growth. Lorelei Linklater's assertiveness makes her character an equal source of interest for the way she quietly remains the family's backbone. Hawke's Mason Sr., a freewheeling lefty musician, crops up just frequently enough to offer a rich commentary on the advancing challenges faced by his kids."
One of the film's greatest assets is that it's made to grow just as much as its character does, argues Peter Debruge in his Variety review:
"Like so many of Linklater’s projects, 'Boyhood' will no doubt ripen with age. Certainly, there’s an enormous difference between the film as it is experienced at the moment of projection and the one that settles in the days and months to follow. Nearly all the helmer’s pics so thoroughly reflect the moment of their creation that it would be fascinating to screen the film alongside a retrospective of the other work he’s created over the past 12 years."
Instant Twitterverse Reaction
"I've seen movies and thought: I never saw that before. Boyhood might be the 1st where I also thought: I'll never see that again."
"Beautiful, dense, fleeting and cumulatively powerful, BOYHOOD is a majestic and often overwhelming experience."
"Richard Linklater’s Boyhood: 1200 people just watched a lifetime of home videos together. Sublime communal experience."
"Is Richard Linklater the greatest director at work in America today? BOYHOOD offers compelling evidence. Funny, sad, tender, wise, beautiful"
"Boyhood - sprawling, intimate, hilarious, heartbreaking. One of the most relatable films I've ever seen. Stunning."
"BOYHOOD: The amblng shambling can't hide the ambition & skill in a film made almost entirely of the kind of scenes other movies cut."
"Boyhood: I am comfortable calling that a masterpiece."