'Boyhood' is a feat in cinematic storytelling

John Villarose VI
Staff Writer

Despite its relative obscurity earlier this year, chances are everyone’s heard about “Boyhood” plenty by now. After gathering near-unanimous praise and more awards than the creators know what to do with, “Boyhood” is on everyone’s minds as the frontrunner for Best Picture at the 87th Academy Awards this week. There are plenty of magnificent nominees this year, with great movies like “Birdman,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Whiplash” all fighting for the top spot, so the real question is, does “Boyhood” deserve it? In a word: yes.

“Boyhood” is the sixteenth from veteran director Richard Linklater, best known for “Dazed and Confused” and “School of Rock.” While Linklater’s films almost always do well, both critically and in the box office, none has come close to the recognition of “Boyhood,” most likely because none of his films have ever been anywhere near the same scale. What Linklater has done is an extraordinary feat never accomplished quite the same way in film.

"Boyhood" took director Richard Linklater 12 years to make. (Photo courtesy of theadvocateblog.net)
“Boyhood” took director Richard Linklater 12 years to make. (Photo courtesy of theadvocateblog.net)

Shooting for “Boyhood” began in 2002, thirteen years ago, demonstrating an unbelievable amount of commitment on the part of the cast and crew. However, what makes it special is that, in addition to the rest of the cast, the same child actors first cast in 2002 were used until the film’s release last year. Ellar Coltrane, starring as Mason Evans Jr., was only eight years old when he was cast and was twenty by the time the film was released. The film chronicles Mason’s life as he grows throughout the twelve years, with viewers also seeing the real growth of Coltrane. Likewise Lorelei Linklater, who plays Mason’s sister Samantha, grows along with him. Though the movie is fictional, the cast all brought in their own life experiences over the course of the twelve years during which the film was shot, giving a unique authenticity to their performances.

While the feat “Boyhood” accomplishes is enough to garner praise, what seals this film in as the guaranteed Best Picture is the fantastic performances by the cast and the equally impressive writing and direction. While Coltrane’s the star of the film, his performance itself isn’t really what sells the movie. Ellar and Lorelei were both satisfactory child actors, but the real standouts were their fictional parents Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette. Arquette gave a career-best performance as the epitome of single moms struggling to maintain healthy relationships with both their kids and their potential partners while also providing a substantial life for the children. Both Hawke and Arquette were instantly relatable, portraying two of the most realistic parents in film.

The film was improved by how naturally it showed the progression in time. Britney Spears became “High School Musical,” the Gameboy Advance became the Nintendo Wii, and the slow maturing of the characters was shown through little things like new jobs and slightly altered appearances. The struggles the family goes through will hit home for a lot of people, as it tackles heavy subjects such as alcoholism and drug use through a growing child’s perspective.

As good as the film is, it’s not without its flaws. The 165-minute running time may have been necessary to fully capture the growth of the characters, but it does tend to drag a bit. Some viewers also might be left frustrated at the unorthodox storytelling style. There isn’t really the typical progression of events and conflict seen in most film and literature; instead the film just shows the series of consecutive events with no clear “ending.” Still, “Boyhood” is an extraordinary (and fortunately, successful) experiment in filmmaking, and one that will be talked about for decades to come.