What We’re Watching: ‘Boyhood’



The concept behind Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” is one-of-a-kind: a movie that follows a boy from age six to 18, filmed with the same actors over 12 years.

The word “nostalgic” doesn’t come close to encompassing this movie. Still, viewers don’t necessarily walk away from the film thinking they’ve just seen a masterpiece of a project. It feels more like a great home movie, the kind you secretly love to watch with your family on rainy days.

In the theater, the audience genuinely laughed at cutesy kids jokes and often whispered to each other when scenes between parents reminded them of their own.

The movie follows Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he watches anime, attends the book release of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” rides a bicycle with a friend on a RipStik and spends class time traveling the Oregon Trail on a PC. As audience members watch the kids get braces, play the new Game Boy Advance and eventually grow facial hair, they are immersed in the movie’s realistic quality. Shooting in short bursts from 2002 to 2013, the filmmakers didn’t need to set the scene or buy the right items from eBay to fit the time. The costume directors didn’t have to go to Goodwill to buy clothes from 2003.

“Boyhood” not only enthralls viewers with a convincing story, but also makes them remember their childhoods, the time their parents fought, the time they had to go to a new school. Linklater shows all of these common experiences without making the film too self-aware of the feat it is accomplishing.

In the early years, Mason is a quiet, shy boy who is overshadowed by his loud, attention-seeking sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). Living with their mother, the children are overjoyed when their somewhat irresponsible and immature father (Ethan Hawke) comes back from Alaska in his black, 1968 Pontiac GTO with a pile of presents inside.

The audience really gets to know Mason a few years later when he and his father go camping. Mason starts to develop into a more independent and unique character. As the story progresses, he deals with multiple moves within Texas, alcoholic stepfathers, girl problems, bullies and deciding what to do after high school. His dad changes, his mom changes, his sister changes, he changes and we watch it all on the screen.

Linklater is known for his attention to detail, and this talent is ever-present in “Boyhood.” He is one of those directors who you swear must keep a running list of ordinary things people say so he can include them in every movie. But rather than the usual philosophical and theoretical banter in his “Before” films or “Slacker,” Linklater’s dialogue is centered on everyday life and follows the actual experiences of growing up.

The sentimental soundtrack fits the scenes of the movie nicely, with songs playing during the years they were actually released: “Yellow” starts the movie off and goodies like “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” and “Somebody That I Used to Know” are sprinkled in. Those details remind viewers that they are watching a movie that spanned years of filming.

A lot happens in the almost three-hour movie, but “Boyhood” never feels overwhelming. Transitions move the audience seamlessly from one glimpse of each year in Mason’s life to the next. His boyhood ends in the final scene: a hike with new friends. It’s a start to another chapter beyond the camera lens.

Released: July 18
Director: Richard Linklater (“Dazed and Confused” and “Before Midnight”)
Genre: Coming of Age/Drama
Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Patricia Arquette (“Medium”), Ethan Hawke (“Reality Bites” and “The Purge”)

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