“Boyhood,” the movie that took director Richard Linklater (“Before Midnight”) 12 years to create, follows the life of Mason Evans Jr. (played by newcomer Ellar Coltrane) from age six until age 18. The film opens up with Coldplay’s “Yellow,” bringing back a wave of nostalgia, and Mason at age six arguing with his older sister Samantha (newcomer Lorelei Linklater). Their mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette, “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III”) is dealing with the struggles of single motherhood.
They move from place to place, as Olivia attempts to get her life together. With each new phase of their lives, they are greeted with topical themes involving the misery of leaving childhood friends, and the overwhelming trauma that alcohol and physical abuse can bring.
Their father, Mason Evans Sr. (Ethan Hawke, “Getaway”) grows up alongside the children. He begins as a deadbeat dad who doesn’t know how to be a part of his children’s life, but slowly he evolves into the person Mason Jr. turns to for advice about girls, and eventually becomes a new father again. Though the film centers on watching Mason Jr. grow into adulthood, it also shows a multitude of versions of ‘growing up.’
Each moment is relatable, from the confusion Mason feels when asking his father Mason Evans Sr. if there’s any real magic left in the world, and the disappointment with the answer that ‘currently on this Earth there are no elves’ to deal with the devastation of a first real heartbreak.
Though not everyone has undergone the exact same interactions, the process of growing up encompasses specific milestones — each one highlighted in the film. The genius of this movie isn’t a shocking plot twist or creative story, but the truly enigmatic portrayal of human life.
From a cinematic standpoint, the film is a marvel. Linklater has experimented previously with showing the relationship between our lives and time, with his three-part love story in “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset” and “Before Midnight.” However, where those films focus on the ways that one specific relationship progresses over time, “Boyhood” explores the multitude of human interactions in one boy’s life.
“Boyhood” doesn’t follow the typical storyline, with an ultimate build-up, climax and downfall, but follows the intricate failures and successes that accompany everyday human existence. The magical aspect of this film is the intimate nature that its audience will be able to connect with; everyone has their own coming-of-age story, and this one ties the common thread of human existence together through the eyes of Mason Jr.
Ethan Hawke as Mason Evans Sr. is utterly charismatic. His infectious energy brings the character to life, as he struggles to become the father he desperately wants to be. He is easy to love, but Patricia Arquette as Olivia is absolutely phenomenal. Her character undergoes the biggest struggle; with two devastating encounters with alcoholism and abuse, she always keeps her children the main focus. Arquette’s shining moment on screen is when Mason Jr. leaves for college. She sobs at the table sharing that this is the absolute worst day of her life, because she just thought there would be more to her life.
The idea of filming over a 12-year period seems absurd, and certainly would have been an utter waste of time if the movie hadn’t turned out to be a truly groundbreaking moment in cinema. Never has a film so intimately shown the tragedy and triumph of growing up. Through the brilliant filmmaking of Richard Linklater, the audience is taken on a journey through the perils of modern life in America. Whether as a 6-year-old boy or a young single mother, we are all connected.
5 out of 5 stars