Sunday, August 17, 2014

Boyhood review

There are two summer movies that are impossible to dislike. One is Guardians of the Galaxy. The other is Boyhood.

Boyhood is a film about the juvenile life of Mason Evans Jr. (Mason) and his growth to adulthood. The remarkable thing about his movie is that Moses is played by one actor, Ellar Coltrane starting at six, and filmed for twelve years to capture his growth. We meet Mason as a young child living with his single mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and his sister, Samantha. (Lorelei Linklater, the director's daughter) Olivia is divorced from Mason Evans Sr. (Ethan Hawke) who gets the kids on visitation. The kids clearly adore him for his fun loving ways. But he's not a responsible adult. The movie is comprised of moments of Mason's life. Playing video games. Spending time with his separated father. Fighting with his sister. Seeing his mother having bad relationships with abusive husbands. Becoming a rebellious teen. Drinking. Falling in love.

I say that the film is remarkable because writer and director Richard Linklater has managed to capture a fictional life that echoes the human experience. He was able to get four actors to play a part for twelve years of on and off filming which enhances the realism. All the conflicts, drama, comedy ring true. Linklater is not interested in giant dramatic tragedy because that usually doesn't happen to most people. But he's more into the problems of everyday people. And at the same time, he makes this family likable, and I should say lovable. You can't help but root for Mason. His mother and father are far from perfect but do an admirable job of raising a good kid. Yeah, Mason is probably not going to become President but I do trust in the end that he's going to be a good person. Yet, all of this is done without the camera gymnastics that have polluted modern film.

Ellar Coltrane's performance is spectacular. As a child, he gets the idea of who his character is. When a stepfather makes him cut his long hair, we see the dismay in his face. Of course, director Linklater deserves some credit here. He gets the same from his own daughter, Lorelei. Yes, we see the brother-sister rivalry that one sees in most families. There's also growth for the adults. Ethan Hawke's father is a affable guy who really has very little idea of being responsible in life. Yet, his love for the children that will shape them. Patricia Arquette's Olivia, is a person that we all have met. She's a struggling single mother who meets the wrong guys constantly. Yet Arquette is strong for her children, no matter what obtacles life throws in her way.

There are small problems with this film. Many times when you have the writer and director being the same person, you can have either a cinematic disaster or a good movie. Boyhood falls into the latter category. Linklater probably had so much footage and wanted to show the emotional and physical growth of Mason that he left too much of it in the final cut. There were scenes that didn't help the dramatic narrative. For example, there's a scene where a pre-teen Mason is walking with a girl. The conversation didn't do anything for the movie. At 164 minutes, this film should have been cut by thirty minutes. Boyhood is also aloof at times. In one scene, Olivia is crying over an impending empty nest. Mason doesn't do much to comfort her. He just seems clueless. Linklater should have given closure here with reassurance from Mason because we know that he loves her. Still, none of this hurts this movie that much.

Every summer, the theaters are full of cinematic bombast. Much of it is numbing on one's senses. Boyhood comes in like a sweep of fresh air. It's a graceful, lovely slice of life. The grade is B Plus.

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