Friday, June 20, 2014


Boyhood is kind of like The Tree Of Life for people who didn't really like The Tree Of Life (...kind of). Personally I'm a fan of both films (and I imagine anyone who liked Malick's film will like Richard Linklater's latest) but I can understand why The Tree Of Life turned some people off. Boyhood acts as a nice alternative.
I'm sure some of you reading this right now may be wondering what one film has to do with the other, but there's actually quite a few similarities between the two...
They're both personal, almost plotless, coming-of-age stories about young boys growing up in Texas. Both films look at the mother characters in a more positive light, while the fathers in each story are much more flawed but mean well at the end of the day. Lastly, each filmmaker dedicated large chunks of their lives to each project.
Boyhood is more straightforward in terms of delivery, but it’s just as ambitious as The Tree Of Life (possibly more). While Malick did take many years to complete his opus (with a few starts & stops, do-overs, adjustments to technology & re-casts in between) there was still a huge gap between his initial concept (which came about in the late 70's) and the final product that we now know as The Tree Of Life. Filming didn't actually start until 2009. Terrence Malick took breaks to make stuff like The Thin Red Line (1998) & The New World (2005) before really setting his focus on Tree. Obviously Richard Linklater has been quite active with other projects since he started shooting Boyhood in 2002 (he made 8 films during the 12 year span that it took to complete Boyhood) but he never actually took a traditional break from making it. Linklater had been filming Boyhood on & off since 2002 because he wanted to shoot in sequence using the same actors (Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater & Ellar Coltrane) to show realistic aging over the years, specifically with Coltrane, who ages from 7 to 19 through the course of the story. We also see his own daughter Lorelei age from 9 to 21 (an element of the story that's been downplayed in some early reviews).

The idea of Boyhood brings to mind other films that have already taken a similar approach. Richard Linklater is responsible for the Before Series (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset & Before Midnight) which chronicles the same actors/characters for three films over the span of two decades. The Up series, an on-going documentary that’s been following the same group of people since age 7, began filming in the mid 60’s; and art house cinephiles followed the Antoine Doniel character through five movies. Even smaller works like Hal Hartley’s Henry Fool (1998) and its sequel Fay Grim (2006) showed realistic aging through the years with the "Ned" character played by Liam Aiken in both films (age 7 in Henry Fool and age 15 in Fay Grim).
To me these are more than just standard sequels because they're quite personal and they show drastic changes in not only the characters, but the actors who play them over the years (minus the obvious Up film which is an actual documentary)...

Symon - The Up Series
Jean-Pierre Leaud as "Antoine Doniel" - The 400 Blows / Stolen Kisses
Liam Aiken as "Ned Grim" - Henry Fool / Fay Grim
Ethan Hawke & Julie Delpy as "Jesse & Celine" - Before Sunrise / Before Sunset / Before Midnight

And I’m not sure how many of you know this but Lars Von Trier also tried doing a similar project with Udo Kier that he started shooting in the late 80’s, then gave up on it after a while.
Boyhood is the first fiction film, that I know of, to span so many real years in one sitting with the same actors (I'm sure there's some obscure title out there that I don't know about). Obviously you can see a 12 year age change in the face & physique of almost any adult (which we do see with Hawke & Arquette through the course of the film), but it’s way more noticeable in a kid...

In Boyhood we follow Mason (Ellar Coltrane) – a young boy growing up in Texas. His parents aren't together and he lives with his mother (Arquette) & older sister (Linklater), while his father (Hawke) is a slightly immature/"every other weekend" dad who does eventually become a more consistent part of his life later on (I must say that the last three reviews I read on Boyhood don't paint Hawke's father character all that accurately). As the story progresses we see Mason go from a fresh-faced little boy to a college freshman with hair on his face. In between he goes through things like puberty (there's even a section in the film where his voice cracks a little bit), he gets his heart broken, learns a few important life lessons and all the other standard things that come along with growing up. There isn’t much of a “conflict” or "climax" in the film because ultimately it’s about watching a kid grow up in a world that's changing around him (note the subtle advancements in technology as the film moves along in time). However there are still some important bookmarks in the story like Mason's growing interest in art and the temporary presence of his various dysfunctional stepdads.
Throughout Boyhood Linklater expresses his own personal political views through his characters (which is fine with me because I guess we share the same basic beliefs). He also references his older works like Dazed & Confused (let's see if you can catch the two moments) as well as Waking Life (by the time Mason is in his late teens he sometimes talks like a character right out of a scene in Waking Life). And being the cinephile that he is, Linklater also uses movies (and music) as markers in time.

This movie can (and will) be enjoyed by both genders of just about any age but it is a boy’s story for the most part. When you have a film this intimate that touches on subjects like looking through lingerie magazines for half naked women, trying to be macho around other boys or the idea of having an inconsistent male figure/role model, it does become a little gender specific. It’s no different than how Welcome To The Dollhouse, The Virgin Suicides or It Felt Like Love can be (and are) enjoyed by both genders, but they still speak to women at the end of the day.
But the constant presence of Mason's older sister does provide an alternative/feminine perspective.

This is one of those recent films for me like Upstream Color, Post Tenebras Lux or Leviathan where no matter how many minor (or major) issues there may be, it’s still doing something new-ish or somewhat progressive for cinema. Yes this is a fictional story, but there’s also an accidental documentary here because we’re following the same people and watching them change over a real extended period of time (I'm aware there's plenty of fiction/documentary hybrids out there already, but not like Boyhood). 
I will admit that it would have been interesting to see Mason grow-up with both of his parents together, but that's just my opinion. Maybe Boyhood is also a reflection of marriage in today's society (I'm aware the relationship between Arquette & Hawke represents so many real parenting situations). But with so many films that portray fathers as either somewhat absent or one-note, it would have made Boyhood even more progressive if there was a working/healthy relationship between Mason's parents (it's almost become common to have a dysfunctional father character in a family film these days). As some of you can imagine, I'm saying this from the perspective of someone who saw bits of himself in Mason yet came up around two-parent households (even the couple of friends I had while growing up whose parents were separated still split the parenting duties 50/50 as best as they could). But just because this film didn't meet every one of my own specific personal needs doesn't mean it isn't a success. I obviously care enough about it to reference my own personal stuff in this review.
And it's not like Mason's parents are bad. In fact they're parenting style is a bit progressive & laid back to a certain degree. They both have their flaws (one has more than the other) but how many perfect parents do you know of? They actually grow/improve as parents through the course of the film.

Given Linklater’s attachment to certain actors & characters (specifically those in The Before Series), I wouldn’t be surprised if we follow Mason in to adulthood later on down the road (...Manhood?). There was an honest/organic attempt at doing something different with Boyhood. Without gushing over this film too much (plenty of reviews have already done that), it is excellent and will probably end up in my top 10 at the end of the year.


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