It’s time to talk about Boyhood.
The coming-of-age drama by Richard Linklater has been captivating audiences for months with the sheer audacity of its premise: capturing the maturation of a young boy, in real-time and with the same cast, over the course of twelve years. The film is the virtually uncontested frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar, with very good reason. It is a cinematic marvel, combining stunning technical achievement with an unprecedented level of emotional intimacy that many films struggle to achieve. I don’t think I have ever been quite as touched, anger, embarrassed, unnerved, and moved watching a film before.
Boyhood poses the argument that life is shaped by the mundane, and it is compelling. Mason, whose boyhood the title refers to, is the product of a broken family, with a father as much a boy as he is, and a mother struggling to find stasis and looking in all of the wrong places. Mason is portrayed as aimless and lack commitment throughout his years, but its difficult to blame him when you consider the seismic shifts in his physical and emotional environment. The everyday interactions that the film is built of carry tiny fragments of a bigger, more volatile picture, and Linklater is excellent at keeping them in the background, visible but not a distraction. When he does go for the showier moments, they are especially intense because of how deeply tethered we are to the family through those quieter moments.
Boyhood is almost aching in its realism. You feel everything: the cringing awkwardness at Mason and Sam’s sex talk with their dad, the humiliation Mason feels walking through school with a forced haircut, the frustration Sam feels having her life uprooted again. Boyhood also speaks frankly about single motherhood, honoring the sacrifices, considerations, frustrations, and devastation that comes after the children are grown and questions about what is next are raised. Thanks to Patricia Arquette’s fierce but sensitive performance, you feel as much for Olivia as you do the children. You want her to succeed for herself as much as for her kids, and are gutted when the right choices she appears to make go terribly left. Another reality Boyhood considers is how easy it is for people to enter and exit one’s life. A number of people make appearances throughout this family’s life, and it can be difficult, at first, to reconcile how some can stay for extended periods and never be heard from again. What Boyhood understands so well is impact; even if someone leaves and returns, or doesn’t return, they leave an indelible mark. With Mason, you can see how each interaction, small and large, imprints on who he ultimately becomes at the film’s end.
It’s easy to forget that the people you see on screen are actors. Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater, the two children of the film, literally grow up in front of our eyes, so you wonder how much of their interpretations aren’t just their real selves. Regardless, their focus and commitment over the course of the film is remarkable, as is everyone’s. Each performance is fully committed and truly natural, even more impressive considering the magnitude of time they are working with, and maybe against. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are especially sensitive to this, and strip themselves to their barest emotions accordingly. Hawke is charmingly offbeat as the wayward dad who comes around every other weekend. He keeps it up as the character ages, though he lets shades of wear and resentment, of how his second family have tempered his passions, to come through. Arquette does exceptional work as Olivia, showing a wide array of emotion, from enraged depression to quiet resignation, all of it colored with a genuine love for the children she acts alongside.
Boyhood is a remarkable achievement in filmmaking that is easy to underestimate. While it does employ a gimmick that seems tailor-made for the Academy, the emotional truths that it unveils over 105 minutes is more important than a golden statuette. But since this is about the Oscars, I will say that the golden statuettes are definitely deserved for this film. No other film I’ve seen this year packs the combined technical and emotional wallop that Boyhood does. I was skeptical before, but I can say with stone-cold certainty that Boyhood should walk away with Best Picture.
Nope, this isn’t it! We’ve still got Selma, Whiplash, and the movie that everyone had pipped for a Best Picture Oscar nomination before it was even released, Interstellar. Thanks for sticking with me through this insanity, and please leave any thoughts you have in the comment section!