For this review, let’s forget the risky technique of making the film. Let’s ignore the fact that Richard Linklater got the same cast to shoot over the course of 5 days per year for 12 years. Let’s not acknowledge this was a risky move that would fall apart if any of the actors quit…or worse. For this review, let’s focus the movie itself Boyhood, the result of 12 years of filmmaking. In the end, films are not about what happens behind the screen but what goes on within the silver screen.
The Boyhood of the film is that of Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), your average boy. When we first meet Mason, he is a precocious 6 years old, lying on the grass. In this moment of his life, his parents have separated and have joint custody of him and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). His mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) is currently getting an education so she can better provide for her children. His father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) is living the laidback life of a wannabe rock star. Olivia admits she still loves Mason Sr. “but it doesn’t mean it was healthy for us to stay together.” To get her education, Olivia is forced to move. So Mason goes through the common moment of saying goodbye to friends.
And thus begins Mason’s life story from childhood to the time he moves to College. With a few exceptions, Mason and his family don’t go through anything that any family hasn’t gone through. It’s just the usual stuff. Video games, homework and dating. You know, the usual.
Considering the nearly three hour run, this should sound very boring. Not Linklater. Being a great storyteller, Linklater uses the small moments create a sense of relatability. In scene after scene, he captures an everyday moment of everyday life. Playing on the computer when you should be doing homework. Faking a sickness to get out of going to school. Sneaking out with your buds for a beer. Breaking up with your girlfriend. They might not seem major events, but Linklater understands that to these characters, these are the most important events of their lives because they are happening now. Even when characters wax philosophy, the dialogue sounds realistic. You probably wondered if magic existed in the world as a kid and grew up to discuss the belief that technology is brainwashing you.
The only true dramatic scenes are scenes with Olivia’s boyfriends. Her choice in men is so bad that it has been the film’s main source of parody. Except for Mason Sr., her boyfriends have been drunken jerks. The worst of them is Bill Welbrock (Marco Perella), an abusive, controlling drunk. When they first meet Welbrock, he is a professor teaching Olivia. He seems like a really nice guy who has two kids of his own. It’s after he and Olivia marry when he starts showing his true colours. It starts out with him scolding his son for playing his game boy during dinner. No big deal. Just a father disciplining his child. At home, he seems a little too demanding when it comes to chores. Then again, that’s what parents do. And then we see him hiding a bottle of gin behind laundry detergent and we see him on a path of self-destruction. It leads to one of the most intense dinner scenes ever filmed. And it’s clear one of the reasons Olivia doesn’t leave right away is the fear of the uncertainty of starting from square one. Even when it’s obvious he hit her, she tries to claim she fell. It’s through the help of a friend that she and her children. Even then, she is still devastated because she was forced to leave the other kids at the mercy of their father’s self-destruction.
Despite this being about childhood, I feel the people most likely to connect with this movie are parents. Watching Mason grow up so fast, Linklater captures perfectly the feeling of parents watching their own child growing up. The years flow into each other scene by scene with effortless perfection by Editor Sandra Adair. They can relate to Olivia breaking down in tears knowing that her children have moved out and her job is done.
Of all the films nominated for Best Picture, Boyhood is the smallest film. But it’s the perfect of example of less being more. Sure it’s about everyday life, but it’s portrayed with such heart that it hooks the audience. It’s already the leading contender for the academy award for Best Picture. If it wins, it will be the smallest film to win since Annie Hall. In my opinion, this is the little film that will win the Best Picture Oscar.