(directed by Richard Linklater, 2014)
****+ (out of 5)
> Movies are magic. They have the unique ability to define our lives, expand and enrich our world, shed light on the mysteries of living, educate and elucidate, articulate crucial questions about what gives life meaning, help us see ourselves with a clear eye that is otherwise muddied by proximity. It is an art form that helps us step outside of ourselves, and see ourselves as others see us. Films focus the beauty, the horror, the angst, the almost unbearable transience of living, and reduce the essentially infinite complexities, to the most fundamental and rudimentary of essence, and to make them comprehensible, digestible, lucid and visceral. Roger Ebert knew this. I wish he had lived to see this transcendent film.
. I honestly don’t know that I have ever been more excited about seeing a movie. I am a big fan of experimenter Richard Linklater from his diverse achievements in DAZED AND CONFUSED, WAKING LIFE, FAST FOOD NATION, A SCANNER DARKLY, ME AND ORSON WELLES, the remarkable “MIDNIGHT” trilogy- and the buzz on this absolutely unique project could not have been more enthusiastic. Simply: Mr. Linklater has attempted something no other filmmaker in the history of cinema has ever attempted! He shot a narrative film whose story-arch covers twelve years… over twelve years! It’s obvious why this had never before been attempted: it was a huge risk to investors! So much can happen in twelve years to derail such an ambitious project- not the least of which, the death of an irreplaceable contributor- perhaps even in year eleven! But the gamble paid off in a big, big way- as we get to watch these family members age in quasi-real time, experiencing the challenges and milestones, the glories and heartrending banalities of family life in America.
. The boy in question is Mason- a normal lad living with his mother and sister in suburban Texas, played excellently by young actor Ellar Coltrane, who ages from six to eighteen over the course of this extraordinary film’s (brisk!) three-hour running time. All the central actors age twelve years from compelling stars Patricia Arquette (in a very grounded performance as Mason’s mom) and Ethan Hawke (always charismatic, but perhaps trying a bit too hard here), playing the absent father, to the filmmaker’s daughter Lorelei Linklater playing Mason’s sister Samantha.
. Seldom has a more ambitious film reached so high and succeed so consistently. In the early scenes, I began to doubt what so many before me had seen in this film, because the performances from the child actors- while not at all bad- looked more like ‘kids pretending’, than ‘people being’. I quickly realized that in casting the central roles, Linklater and his casting director were focusing more on potential, than immediately evident talent. They had to choose on faith that over the twelve year shoot, these child actors would grow into their roles- and you bet they did! Ellar is so damn good by the ending, one has little doubt he has a career ahead.
. One of my only criticisms: because no warning is given when we suddenly jump years forward in these character’s lives, BOYHOOD sometimes feels kind of choppy and disjointed. Marriages form and dissolve in the blink of an eye. Characters are introduced, only to disappear. There is not time to explore each growth stage very deeply. But that’s life, isn’t it? We never know who, in our cast of characters is playing a walk-on role and who will stick around for the entire narrative, and there is never enough time in life for… anything!
. There were two transcendent moments in BOYHOOD that I will never forget, because they were so true, so real, so accurate. I know. I lived them! The first, is the very first shot in the film: a young Mason lying on the grass in front of his school, staring up in wonder at the sky and contemplating the wondrous questions a six year old boy wonders. I only wished the shot had lingered- just a little. The second happened much later in the film. Mason is a young man now, facing all the trials and rites of passage young people face in modern American society, on his first day of college. He is on a drug trip, hiking in a canyon with newly-met acquaintances and sharing a surprisingly intimate moment, with a girl with whom he shares an obvious attraction. Their dialogue and the subtle, impeccably-timed interplay between them is absolutely wonderful. I was so delighted, I could not help but spontaneously outburst an enthusiastic: “Perfect!” And in a heartbeat- the film was over.
. I had been wondering all along how one ends a film about boyhood. Where is that dividing line, where one’s childhood is definitively past? Aside from death, life does not usually provide definitive endings. (I am facing this question in my memoirs right now.) Apparently, visionary director Richard Linklater ends such a film with one of the most perfect moments I have ever experienced in the cinema.
> Richard Linklater! You are a God among filmmakers. Thank-you for following your Muse! I can hardly wait to see what else you have up your sleeve…
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