Sometimes you want to say, simply, go see this movie, and
leave it at that. Richard Linklater's "Boyhood," which debuted at Sundance and won two Berlinale prizes, is such a film. Now headed for SXSW, it's
ingenious: Shot over the course of 12 years using the same actors -- Ethan
Hawke and Patricia Arquette as the estranged and then divorced parents of a
girl, Samantha (Linklater's own daughter Lorelei), and the eponymous boy, Mason
(Ellar Coltrane) -- "Boyhood" follows the family through many ups and
downs, from when Mason is about six until he leaves for college.
As with Linklater's celebrated "Before" triptych, you watch the actors age over time and you can't help but feel that you are growing with them. As in that series, Hawke grows on you (pun may or may not be intended) as he matures, but like his character, he's less there than Arquette, who runs the house as best she can. Actually, by the end of the movie, she and the kids are on their fourth or fifth house, usually due to some less than happy reasons. That is to say, her husbands, whose initial good natures sour with time and alcohol.
"Boyhood"'s plotting is too detailed and banal to relate. Linklater says he wanted to present the life of a normal family, not an extraordinary one, and so there are the money issues, the schools, the friends, the relatives, the haircuts, the awkward stages, the camping trips, and conversation after conversation after conversation. The "Before" films are known for their repartee, but the dialogue is better here, less arch, more realistic.
I don't know if it was always Linklater's intention to call the film "Boyhood," if it was a way of telling his story, or if it just became clear over time that it was really Mason's story -- or Ellar's story, so strong does this kid/young man become over the course of the film. The entire cast is excellent, but perhaps it makes sense, given the alchemy inherent in this long project, that a filmmaker of such vision and sensitivity as Linklater has developed a young actor of uncommon gifts and charisma.
Uncommon gift is as good as any way to describe "Boyhood." It's a slice of American pie as we've never tasted it before. At nearly three hours long, it could perhaps benefit from some trimming, particularly for its international release -- a German acquaintance thought so -- yet despite the extraordinary passage of time it never really felt slow or tedious or too long. When it was finally time for Mason to leave for college, and his mother burst into tears, I also felt that wonderful/terrible mix of sadness and pleasure and hope -- at the childhood left behind and the promise of opportunities ahead. Just like real life.