Jan 26, 2015

[Movies] Boyhood (2014)

It's clear that Boyhood is one of the darlings of this year's movie award season. Then again, when a filmmaker takes 12 years to create a single movie, it's hard to ignore it. That's no small feat, and it seems that folks can throw awards at it fast enough. I suppose it's rare enough to encounter a movie with such ambitious scope - and by scope, we don't just mean a ridiculously expensive movie either.

To be fair, it's certainly an interesting project, and one that truly is a masterpiece in its own right crafted with care and dedication over such an extended period of time. The very fact that the movie got completed with its primary cast intact is pretty impressive by itself. This is especially significant given how everyone involved wasn't even under a long term contract since contracts can't span 12 years.

But when you get down to it, it's really a simple coming of age story that nicely captures a key point in the life of a boy. It's a period that is difficult to capture and traditionally multiple child actors are used to film such a period. The unique approach utilized in this movie certainly opened the doors for something a bit more detailed.

Synopsis: Boyhood is a 2014 coming-of-age drama movie written and directed by Richard Linklater. The movie was filmed intermittently over a period of 12 years and the movie has already won two Golden Globe awards and is nominated for 6 Academy Awards as of the time of this posting.

The movie begins in 2002 where we meet 6 year old Mason Evans, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) and his older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). The two are under the care of their now single mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette), although their biological father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) visits regularly to take them out from time to time. And the first big shift in the story involves the family moving to Houston so Olivia so she can finally finish her degree over at the University of Houston.

From there we pretty much follow the family through different points in their lives together, but primarily from the perspective of young Mason. We see Olivia get married again, first to her professor Bill (Marco Perella) and their family gets a bigger given Bill's two children from a prior marriage. We see changs in Mason Sr.'s demeanor as well as he gets more serious with time. And all the while we see young Mason Jr. grow up before our eyes and try to find his way in the world.

Front and center here is how we see the primary cast grow older at the pace of the movie's story. Naturally this is most striking for Mason and Samantha, but really it's a shift that effects everyone and plays well into the narrative. Olivia's struggles as a mother are one of the key points in the whole narrative while you have Mason Sr. finding his way to become more of a true father figure instead of just being a friend to his kids.

At the same time, I can appreciate how Linklater's story most likely had to shift to and fro in order to adapt to how the kids were actually growing up. As much as he had a general story for them in mind, people change and a 12 year filming process requires one to be pretty flexible as you work with the acting talent involved. And Linklater certainly deserves credit for managing to pull things together here.

But at the same time, the whole piece is really just this extended slice of life sort of experience. It's a true coming-of-age piece in form and structure, but then it didn't quite have a strong message to deliver at the end. Some may argue that this was part of the point - life is what it will be and you don't need to have some put-on story to frame things in a certain way. But then without that message, that true sense of story, it sort of feels like a weird fictional documentary, as it were. You have all these events that happen one after the other but in the end what is it all supposed to signify? Or do we just take things as they are?

Sitting down to watch Boyhood is quite the commitment given how it runs for close to three full hours. And since you just end up bouncing around the timeline of their lives and just picking up the story at random moments but in the end it doesn't feel quite as coherent as I'd like it to be. So is that a measure of success? The very mundane nature of their family stories is proof in itself of this being a good story about real life? I guess that's really up to you as a viewer to decide for yourself.

Boyhood is still quite the striking piece and the rare sort of movie that will clearly divide audience opinion for years to come. I don't think it should win Best Picture or anything like that, but then I strongly suspect it will. The movie gets 4 moments of childhood rebelliousness out of a possible 5.


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