You'll need to make a decision sooner than later: You will either A) be the one to tell friends and family to see Boyhood, the best film of 2014 thus far, or B) have them tell you to see it. It's that good. And it's a filmmaking achievement.
Boyhood, much like childhood, started out small, almost an experiment by writer-director Richard Linklater. It ended in triumph; the planet's best critics have hailed Boyhood as the best film of the year (Vanity Fair), the decade (The Guardian), the 21st century (New York Times) and even in the history of cinema (Salon). Whoa there, fellas. This is one great movie, but let's try to not kill it with kindness. Boyhood doesn't belong in a pantheon, let alone on a pedestal. It belongs instead in a corner of your heart yet untouched by a piece of culture.
It's my understanding that this little movie with a grand soul has already captured the hearts of every city in which it has been screened. And by the conclusion of the film, I too had the uncanny feeling that I had reunited with a long-lost friend. In spite of its nearly three-hour run time, I was simply not prepared for this movie to end. But be forewarned, Boyhood will sneak up on you: it packs an emotional punch--not from life's obvious highlights but from a collective tenderness that accumulates over the years.
"It became a really personal thing. For most of the process, it didn't even feel like a movie," Ellar Coltrane, the extraordinary star of Boyhood, told Boise Weekly (See Citizen, Page 10). "It was more of an exploration of the way humans experience time."
And explore we do, as we watch Coltrane fill the role of Mason from age 5 to 18, primary school to college. The film is not filled with sunburst, melodramatic moments; instead it peers at otherwise indistinguishable vagaries of a boy's life: a camping trip with dad; those fidgety back-seat car trips when sister won't shut up (insisting she sounds just like Britney Spears); the first time a girl says hello.
My sense is that you too will feel instantly comfortable in Mason's world. His heartbreaks will feel all too familiar, as well. And if you're a parent, you better bring plenty of tissues and be willing to ignore those people sitting in back of you, puzzled as to why you're crying about a silly little thing like watching a child grow up. I admit to being a bit of a blubbery mess by the end of this film, but because Boyhood is so genuine, it's also so visceral.
As you may have heard by now, Boyhood was filmed over 12 years. There have been other films, primarily documentaries, that have chronicled time, but no other long-form narrative film has captured such a story with its exact cast over more than a decade. Patricia Arquette is superb as Mason's mother, Samantha; Ethan Hawke turns in his best and most natural performance yet as Mason Sr.; and Mason's back-seat foil and ultimate best friend, sister Samantha, is portrayed by a perfectly charming Lorelei Linklater (the director's real-life daughter).
Indeed, the real star here is Richard Linklater, whose previous work includes 1993's Dazed and Confused, 2003's School of Rock and his Before trilogy, comprised of 1995's Sunrise, 2004's Sunset and 2013's Midnight. Linklater's Boyhood script and direction are Oscar-worthy, instantly sending his film to the top of this year's best list. If my hunch is right, it will continue to hover near the top of the list as the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve.
Boyhood is unyielding in pace and patience with its characters and, as a result, it feels more like a novel than a film. That's an extraordinary accomplishment. The movie is not handcuffed by lackadaisical narrative arcs that define most films. Instead, Boyhood's gentle epic buoys us through a swift but steady river of days that make up a life. But we're also reminded that some of those days require a bit more paddling than others. I know I was swept away.