Written & Directed by Richard Linklater
Seeing the connectivity and influences that have made your life can be a very daunting task. There are profound moments that stand out, but they alone are not what shaped you into the person that exists today. Filmmaker Richard Linklater decided to attempt to tell the story of one person over the course of the actor’s actually childhood and adolescence, everyone in the cast contributing real-life experiences in a semi-improvised movie. The result is Boyhood, an ambitious piece of cinema but one that doesn’t entirely propel itself into a pantheon of greatest films, in my opinion.
Mason Evans, Jr starts the movie a six-year-old living with his single mother, Olivia and older sister, Samantha. They occasionally get a visit, though few and far between, from their estranged father. As time passes, their mother ends up in marriages that seem to show a repeated pattern of poor choices. Mason Sr spouts his philosophy of anti-establishment thinking and finds himself softening, becoming comfortable in a middle-class life by the time Mason Jr. is grown. Our protagonist witnesses things and slowly discovers himself, finding an interest in photography. The film refrains from making itself about every monumental life event in Mason’s life and attempts to work as a slice of life picture, allowing characters to talk and reveal themselves as they go.
Due to the improvised nature of Boyhood, it’s natural to feel a sense of aimlessness in the script. Because laws prevented Linklater from having everyone sign contracts to commit for a 12-year filming schedule, he had to play loose with what he chose to film when it was time. You can also see how certain characters withdraw as the film goes on due to the filmmaker beginning to coalesce his ideas. There’s also an eventual attempt to create some throughlines, particularly the ongoing mentions of Pavolv. Mason first hears about conditioning when he has to sit in on one of his mom’s college classes. Later, he hears her discussing it when she has become a college professor. Finally, on a road trip with his high school girlfriend, he brings up Pavolv when talking about his views on free will.
I’ve always found myself varying in degrees on how much I like a Richard Linklater movie. When I was younger, I ate up Waking Life, but as I’ve gotten older, my views have changed a little. It still has a fantastic soundtrack and some great animation. I never warmed to pictures like Slacker and Dazed & Confused as much as other people did, and I have never finished the Before trilogy. At the time Boyhood came out I was very skeptical of the media commotion around its making. It’s as ambitious as Michael Apted’s Up documentaries, but it’s hard not to let small things interrupt your immersion in the movie.
Linklater always loves to put local actors and non-actors in his work, and most of them in this movie are passable enough. He chose to cast his daughter as Samantha, which I assume was helping make filming a little bit easier, having an actor of whom he was also the guardian. Lorelei Linklater never really wowed me, she is trying to act more in the earlier scenes but near the end of the movie seems just to be playing herself. Once again, this is a common Linklater aesthetic, but there are moments where it impedes the picture’s ability to convey its more significant themes.
Boyhood deserves its accolades from a technical standpoint; it’s a hell of a feat to pull of. There are also genuinely great moments, particularly with older Mason and the ending of the picture is downright perfect. Even though I came of age a few years before Mason, the tone of quiet nostalgia and the way certain small moments are perceived through the lens of youth struck me as beautifully real. It is when Boyhood doesn’t have a direction that it can cause a disconnect with the viewer, but it makes me excited to see who will attempt a similar ambitious endeavor next in cinema.