Boyhood

The film tells a story of a divorced couple trying to raise their young son. The story follows the boy for twelve years, from first grade at age 6 through 12th grade at age 17-18, and examines his relationship with his parents as he grows.

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  • ★★★★★ review by Adam Cook on Letterboxd

    I don’t say this lightly but Boyhood is one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Yet it is not a film filled with great revelatory moments or dazzling technical brilliance. It is distinctly ordinary in almost every department, but this is ultimately what makes it such a special experience that will resonate with any audience whether closer in age to the film’s chief protagonist or the adults struggling with parenthood: It is a film about life.

    However, it is not simply a film about a life but rather about every life that orbits Mason, an average Texan boy from the age of six to eighteen. It is a true coming-of-age drama whether focused on the growing pains of a young boy, his carefree father who finally discovers responsibility or his single mother who finds independence and self-worth after a series of failed marriages.

    As central as adolescence is to the story, Boyhood is essentially about growth - something that doesn’t simply stop at the magical age of eighteen or affect one character. Each family member experiences great personal, collective and cultural change. It is a film that achieves that rare feat - connecting with an audience on multiple levels whether recalling small moments of your own childhood or sympathising with the difficulties and responsibilities that adulthood also brings.

    Twelve years in the making, director Richard Linklater has crafted a truly epic film. Its scope and ambition is greater than a multi-million dollar blockbuster yet it is a humble family drama that eschews heightened drama for smaller, almost incidental, moments. Shooting piecemeal over the twelve years Linklater has created a rich tapestry of life, focusing on the formative years of an ordinary young boy but also broadening the canvas to create a cultural time capsule for the new century.

    Much has been made about its experimental and unorthodox production but its hook - filming the same actors each year for over a decade - is not simply an attention-grabbing gimmick. Linklater isn’t even the first director to attempt such a feat (most recently Michael Winterbottom shot Everyday over a five-year period) but he is arguably the first to truly explore its potential.

    Watching characters physically and emotionally grow on screen over such a lengthy period is a revelatory experience but the film is as much about the drama occurring off screen as it is about the drama captured by the camera. The characters do not merely exist within the bubble of the camera lens, they exist outside it too experiencing joys and sorrows that the audience never see. It seems such a trivial and inconsequential detail but it creates a wholly unique experience. Where film is normally a condensed and hermetically-sealed environment, the world of Boyhood continues to spin and grow beyond the control of the director or gaze of the audience.

    Linklater wisely and surprisingly focuses on the moments between the milestones in life. It is not a film concerned with documenting the cliches of adolescence - first kiss, first drink, prom etc. - but rather those transient in-between moments that prove just as transformative in their own quiet ways. Conflict is drama, as the saying goes, but Boyhood seriously challenges this assumption. There are few moments of conventional drama in the film yet it remains a riveting, witty and heartfelt experience throughout its lengthy but never unwelcome run time.

    In fact, the only time the film falters is when it attempts those moments of heightened drama (most focused on the mother’s abusive second marriage). Where the rest of the film feels organic these rare scenes scream of directorial control and manufactured drama. Thankfully, any such moments are rare and fleeting. Instead, the film is dominated by the ebb and flow of life as lives and stories unfold in an episodic manner.

    Linklater’s approach is aimless and ambling, yet so is life. This is not a film concerned with character arcs, even though each family member has one, or neat resolutions. It is merely documenting a period of time and where lives will continue when the cameras stop rolling. The weight of time and its nostalgic pull is a constant presence yet it is a film that always exists within the moment. References that may now seem knowing or cute were not made with foresight but rather responding to the time and place of the moment.

    It’s hard to imagine the difficulties of casting a child actor with such a great responsibility for the success of a movie. Yet Ellar Coltrane as Mason Jr. is a natural, growing from an inquisitive six-year old through the awkward early teenage years to becoming a young man filled with questions but few answers. Boyhood does not just document the growth of Mason but of Ellar too. Similarly, the rest of the cast, led by the ever-reliable Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, deliver natural and unaffected performances. It is only Lorelei Linklater as Mason’s elder sister who struggles in some of the earlier scenes yet as she plays such a precocious youngster even her affected performance seems strangely fitting.

    Poignant, tender, funny and reflective - Boyhood is one of the most significant films of the twenty-first century.

  • ★★★★★ review by DirkH on Letterboxd

    After finishing Boyhood and slowly gathering my thoughts on it I did what I usually do, fly over to Letterboxd to jot those thoughts down before they escape me. What I wasn't prepared for was what happened when I saw that poster. It was a slap in the face, a jarring reminder that I had just spent twelve years with someone.

    I think it's easy to not look beyond this film's ambitious conception and even write it off as a non-eventful gimmick. There is no real plot, there are no grand character arcs, no dramatic tension. It lacks a narrative flow and has more scope than focus, it ambles on throughout its running time, meandering along the trivial and occasionally touching upon more serious matters, if only to skip on to the next minor life event most of us have experienced one way or another. If you'd regard these things as criticisms, you'd be right, Boyhood was probably not for you.

    It was for me though. Ever so much.

    Linklater's stunning film blurs the lines of art and life completely. In doing so, he brilliantly chooses an approach lacking of any pretense, opting for emulation instead of manipulation. I am convinced that many viewers, myself included, have this preconceived notion of how a dramatic film should play out and how it should be acted. Linklater wipes that preconception off the table with a project that is truer than anything I've ever seen. The acting is understated throughout which only adds to the realization of the ambition of the project. There are no frills, just life. Plain, ordinary life. And I did not expect it to pack such a punch.

    As a parent, witnessing a child's shaping of a past for an unknown future was a truly gripping experience. I felt constantly involved. It reminded me both of my youth and of my struggles and fears as a parent. Life isn't about the big moments alone, it's predominantly about the small moments, the fleeting moments that you'd want to hold on to forever in retrospect or regret experiencing or causing. Young Mason not knowing where he belongs, the constant look of regret in Ethan Hawke's eyes when he sees every missed opportunity looking at his kids, Patricia Arquette's relatable but ever so painful final monologue, that kiss, that camping trip, the Black Album, the shared fear for the drunk parent, that first beer, getting advice from your old man about your love life and leaving your parents behind to build a life of your own; Boyhood treats all those moments with a disarming tenderness, truthfulness and with the greatest of respect.

    This unique singularity in the world of cinema made me miss my dad, who died when I was six, ever so much, made me check on my kids to watch them sleep for a while and steered me towards some old photo albums. And looking at a younger me, playing my own version of Boyhood in my head, I fully felt the extent of Mason's last line in the film.

    The moment is always right now.

  • ★★★★½ review by CinemaClown on Letterboxd

    Life inspires art. Art imitates life. But where it truly makes our heart sing is when they both meet at the intersection, for it is in that moment when we get to experience the best of both. In a time when most films being released are either sequels, prequels, remakes or starting points of new franchises, there finally comes a picture which stands completely alone but nonetheless reaffirms the faith that the cinematic art form is all but lost.

    For its ambition alone, Richard Linklater's Boyhood deserves a special mention, for what we have here is the quintessential coming-of-age story that captures the process of growing up unlike anything done, seen or experienced before in film history. It is the closest cinema has ever come to replicating real life on film canvas and is amongst the greatest achievements of filmmaking which won't soon, if ever, find its equal.

    Boyhood tells the story of the younger members of a broken family and covers their journey from childhood to adulthood as they literally age in front of our eyes in the span of its limited runtime. However, the main focus is on Mason's life who's introduced to us as a six year old boy living with his single mother Olivia & older sister Samantha, and from then on it depicts one casual event from each year of his life until he's off to college.

    Written & directed by Richard Linklater, Boyhood presents the esteemed filmmaker at the very pinnacle of his already impressive career as what he manages to accomplish here is something most directors can only dream of. It's not only his most ambitious & unique film to date but is remarkable enough to deserve the tag of his magnum opus. The screenplay is an amalgamation of twelve different scripts, one for each year, which together form a cohesive whole.

    Cinematography makes minimal use of camera movements & nicely captures each sequence while Editing provides seamless transition from one segment to another throughout its 165 minutes of runtime. The film also makes exquisite use of pop-culture references in order to indicate the passage of time and even its soundtrack is filled with songs which are perfectly in tune with the timeline depicted, starting with Coldplay's Yellow & concluding with Arcade Fire's Deep Blue.

    Coming to the acting department, Boyhood features an incredibly committed cast in Ethan Coltrane (Mason Evans Jr.), Patricia Arquette (Olivia Evans), Lorelei Linklater (Samantha Evans) & Ethan Hawke (Mason Evans Sr.) who all chip in with excellent performances in their given roles but what's even more amazing is the terrific chemistry they share with each other and just how convincing their characters look. And within each character, we can truly glimpse snippets of our own lives.

    To see each one of them literally age by so many years inside 3 hours of runtime, to witness the young cast's body & voice morph naturally as they pass through adolescence, and to know that the kids we are introduced to in the beginning & the young adults we meet near the end are the exact same people & not different actors, these little things do add up to leave a profound feeling of its own which can't be put into words. And as far as the spirit of childhood is concerned, Boyhood nails it with absolute precision.

    Listening to stories before going to bed, constantly fighting with siblings only to make up in the next moment, frustration of getting an unwanted haircut, moving from one place to another, days spent playing video games, making new friends, losing touch with old ones, first serious crush, first heartbreak, countless lectures about life from grown-ups & turning hobbies into passion, it is in moments like these where Boyhood makes an indelible mark on its audience and makes them see in the film their very own portrait.

    On an overall scale, Boyhood is an exquisite ode to growing up which completely defies all conventions of filmmaking, is crafted with meticulous care & relentless dedication, and has something in store for all its viewers. While some may complain about the lack of any definite plot as well as no sense of where it is headed, I see those elements to be a reflection of the unpredictability of life itself. Transcending almost every limitation of filmmaking to realize its larger than life ambitions, Richard Linklater's latest is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

    Full review at: wp.me/s3KleJ-boyhood

  • ★★★★ review by Naughty aka Juli Norwood on Letterboxd

    In Hollywood it is illegal to have a contract beyond the imposed 7 year limit! Which means the actors and crew had to base their decision to commit to a 12 year Odyssey with nothing more than a promise and a handshake! This speaks volumes about the man that proposed this vision to them! The amount of trust, commitment, sacrifice and risk from everyone involved is what truly sparked my interest! Can you imagine what their agents had to say about such a commitment without the protection and guarantees a contract offers!

    The films success is no surprise considering the times we live in! With the advent of reality tv, twitter, facebook we've become voyeuristic by nature! A culture that lives vicariously through the lives of others!

    The idea of watching the actors age 12 years before our very eyes was a masterful stroke of pure genius! I like to refer to it as the Hook! It builds a strong emotional connection with the characters and makes what unfolds onscreen feel as if its that much more meaningful and relatable! They felt like family!

    The film also strikes a chord with the masses via nostalgic triggers that are carefully orchestrated throughout the film through music, fashion, style, cultural and iconic references just to name a few! All of which cause us to react very much like Pavlov's Dog except Linklater doesn't ring a bell he introduces a sight, sound or other emotional triggers to get the desired effect!

    The entire film was masterfully designed to elicit a nostalgic response! And with the skillset of Linklater triggering Pavlov-esque emotional and nostalgic responses was as easy as shooting fish in a barrel!

    If you were however to eliminate all of the above triggers, hook etc and were to simply focus on the script/dialogue it really doesn't offer anything worthy of an Oscar nomination! Far from it, the narrative is the films weakest link! What does make this film an cinematic achievement and worthy of an Oscar nomination is the brilliant Hook and the Pavlov-esque triggers as well as a culture of voyeurs sitting in the theater seats! And of course none of this could have been done without the superb direction and execution of Richard Linklater!

    Naughty Approved!

  • ★★★★★ review by sprizzle on Letterboxd

    Where to even start with this review?

    A period piece shot in the present, over the course of 12 years is the life defining feature about Mason Jr. (played by Ellar Contrane). Linklater took such a huge chance when starting this 12 years ago, I can't even believe this got greenlit. It's one of the most ambitious movies I've ever seen and the fact that it's actually really great is so satisfying.

    If you grew up in the 90s/00s this film will probably resonate strongly with you. It contains many layers layers of emerging technology, style, culture, that aren't even the focus of the film, just a by-product of shooting over a period of time. There is so much that comes out of this that is basically unplanned that makes it that much better. The ploy put on by Linklater IS the substance of the film.

    But aside from all of that, there is a really great story taking place. All the characters develop so smoothly and truthfully, I had a hard time believing everything didn't actually happen that way. Hawke and Arquette are so spot-on and Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater (Richard's daughter) do absolutely the best you could possibly ask from two child actors building their careers from the ground up.

    The whole three hours (nearly) is amazing. If you love movies you need to see this film.

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