|Sometimes, once is simply not enough.|
Dir. Richard Linklater
Starring: Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke
Review By Greg Klymkiw
One-trick-pony movies tend to drive me nuts. Perhaps the most egregious perpetrator of this artistic masturbation is the loathsome Christopher "One Idea" Nolan. The, oh-gee-what-if-I-tell-the-story-backwards abomination Memento is the pinnacle of an entire career of making movies that have little going for them save for the ONE idea Nolan jackhammers us with - film after film. The myriad of "found footage" movies that took off from The Blair Witch Project and onwards also fall into this category for me. Richard Linklater (School of Rock, Dazed and Confused) seemed to develop an adjunct career making one-trick-pony movies when he gave us Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy wandering around and yapping in an approximation of real time during Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004) and then, in 2014, he served up his ultimate trick-pony gymnastics with the universally acclaimed Boyhood.
My initial response upon the picture's theatrical release was decidedly mixed - so much so, that I never really bothered to watch it again. Well, not all the way through, anyway. You see, I had a Blu-Ray copy of the movie lying around in a heap of screener copies when it came out on home entertainment formats and my (at the time) 13-year-old daughter discovered it and couldn't stop watching it - again and again. As it was played a ridiculous number of times over the years, I was often in the same room while she had it on and yes, I occasionally found myself sitting down to watch bits and pieces of it. Of course I queried her as to why she loved it so much and her most telling response was something like: "I don't know, Dad. I guess it's because it's so real."
So yes, armed with the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray edition of Boyhood, I sat down - alone - and watched it from beginning to end in one sitting.
Yeah, okay. It's definitely a good movie. Really, it is. But, is Boyhood great? Well, what I can say for sure is that it shares the special thing great movies have - at least for me. In spite of the speed bumps the movie is littered with, I do want to see it again.
And yet again.
Boyhood is deceptively simple. Linklater wanted to tell a coming-of-age story spread over a few years, but with the same cast and within the same literal time frame in which he was shooting the movie. So, from 2002 to 2013, as his cast aged naturally, he told the story of Mason Evans, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) from age six to eighteen. Set in various locations in Texas, Mason Jr. lives with Olivia (Patricia Arquette), his (mostly) single Mom and older sister Samantha (Linklater's real-life daughter Lorelei). From time to time, Mason Evans Sr. (Ethan Hawke) visits and spends quality time with his kids.
The movie details Mom's desire to "better" herself by going to college, achieving a Master's degree and eventually teaching in college. We are also privy to the various other men in her life. She admits that she loves Mason Sr. but that they were not meant to be living together. Alas, the other dudes she ends up with are bitter, abusive alcoholics. The worst that might be said about Mason Sr. (at least in terms of what Linklater chooses to reveal) is that he's a free-spirited wannabe musician who eventually "grows up" and becomes a successful insurance salesman.
Throughout, the film wends its way through the sort of touchstones all kids hit - school, discovering inner passions and first-love.
And yes, I can genuinely admit the movie is overflowing with sequences and images that (finally) knocked me on my butt. Early on there's a moment where the kids are moving out of their childhood home and Mason Jr. is charged with doing painting touch-ups on the walls. He looks at the markings that detail all the periods of his physical growth. His job is to erase this part of his life in the place he's known through most of his childhood.
I lost it here. (And please, folks - try to never remove your children from the place they grew up in. It's devastating. For you, maybe. For them, definitely. Trust me. I know all too well.)
This is the extraordinary thing about Boyhood. For all its longueurs (and yes, it's almost three hours so it has plenty of them), this is a movie that keeps hitting you in the gut.
Towards the end of the film, Olivia (and Arquette, who is extraordinary throughout, completely nails it here) talks to Mason Jr. as he's about to leave for college. She says:
"You know what I'm realising? My life is just going to go. Like that. This series of milestones. Getting married. Having kids. Getting divorced. The time that we thought you were dyslexic. When I taught you how to ride a bike. Getting divorced... again. Getting my masters degree. Finally getting the job I wanted. Sending Samantha off to college. Sending you off to college. You know what's next? Huh? It's my fucking funeral!."
Mason Jr. is somewhat bemused by this and suggests she's jumping ahead to her funeral by about forty years. Her response, which I can't quite shake (and that extracted copious tears from my eyes) was simply thus:
"I just thought there would be more."
Jesus Christ, ain't that the truth.
I often wonder if my initial less-than-enthusiastic response to the picture had more to do with its power and ability to rub my nose in the screen as if it were a mirror?
Like my little girl told me, "It's so real."
And so it is.
Boyhood is a great picture.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***** 5-Stars
The Criterion Collection Blu-Ray and (if you must) DVD of Boyhood includes a new 2K digital transfer, supervised by Linklater, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray, a new audio commentary featuring Linklater and nine members of the film’s cast and crew, a new documentary chronicling the film’s production, featuring footage shot over the course of its twelve years, a new discussion featuring Linklater and actors Patricia Arquette and Ellar Coltrane, moderated by producer John Pierson, a new conversation between Coltrane and actor Ethan Hawke, a new video essay by critic Michael Koresky about time in Linklater’s films, narrated by Coltrane, a collection of portraits of the cast and crew by photographer Matt Lankes, narrated with personal thoughts from Linklater, Arquette, Hawke, Coltrane, and producer Cathleen Sutherland.