Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Boyhood (2014) Film Review

Check it out... if you're one who's interested in creative and unique film-making, and want a thoroughly satisfying coming-of-age film that isn't dictated by cliches or over-dramatization

Skip it... if enduring a 2 hour and 45 minute film about a boy growing up, and his experiences throughout adolescence doesn't sound overly engaging for your tastes

"Boyhood" poster
"The premise will get you into the theatre seat; the heartfelt story and performances will keep you there until the final second."

Boyhood is a film directed by Richard Linklater, and stars Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, and centres around the life of a 6 year old boy named Mason, as we see him grow into a young adult in the space of 12 years. We see his development into an independent young man, and see how his relationships change and blossom over this period of adolescence.  

Funnily enough, this is my second film review of the month which is centred around a movie which has been in production for over a decade; Jonathon Glazer's astounding Under the Skin being the first, and now Richard Linklater's Boyhood being the second. Boyhood is a remarkable film; my synopsis of the film above is remarkably accurate in regards to the actual actors and actresses involved in the project. Ellar Coltrane, the actor who plays Mason, was cast as a 6 year old, began filming when he was 7, and played the same character for 12 years, reuniting with the cast and crew every Summer to shoot what would've undoubtedly have felt like a short film every single year. After 12 short films had been shot, each covering the span of a single year in Mason/Ellar's life, Linklater and his editors had the remarkable job of constructing a 2 hour and 45 minute long beast of a film, filled with over a decades-worth of material. Imagine that; working on a film for the majority of your life (this is in the case of Coltrane), to have it released only a few months before your 20th birthday. It's difficult to even fathom such a thing as this. Nevertheless, the result of such hard work over a long period of time is here in Boyhood; another film which I can happily certify is absolutely brilliant.

The thing is that it's not just the execution and visual component of the film that really lead me to this conclusion; it's the fact that you can relate to most of what happens throughout Boyhood. You understand any of the difficulties Mason encounters throughout the film, because you can relate and feel properly empathetic to him. Certainly for myself, this was a big factor in my great approval of the film; I'm currently going through adolescence, and so to see a proper representation of the trials and tribulations I'm currently experiencing is refreshing and satisfying. So often we see teenagers and children portrayed in an unfavorable way on film and television (or the opposite of this; as angels), but to find a film which truly understands the difficulties associated with growing up is something I feel remarkably happy about. It's not just the relatability-factor that really impresses me in regards to the aging process; the progression of Mason is handled swiftly, in terms of execution. Whilst the premise was always going to be original enough to bring the crowds to the theatre seats, it certainly wasn't going to be what kept the audience there. What would be keeping the audience entertained for the duration of the 2 hours and 45 minute run time would be the efficient pacing and strong plot, and those are exactly what Boyhood sports in spades. With such a film as this, which has the job of flipping through the years of a young boy's life in a short period of time (in context; the amount of material filmed would've certainly be outrageously huge), a lack of efficient pacing would've been a very easily conceived fault. Perhaps the years could've gone past too quickly, leaving us feeling like it's simply a montage of events we're witnessing, not the progression of a young man. Perhaps the years could've trudged along far too slowly, leaving us uninterested by the time Mason enters his late teenage years. With a film which sports such a scope as this, these problems could've very easily occured. Fortunately, though, Linklater prevents anything of the sorts occurring, and so therefore you manage to form a strong bond with Mason without feeling held down by a slow burning pace. The film is consistently progressing without leaving the audience behind in it's wake; in retrospect, the pacing is absolutely crystal clear. Outstanding! 

What many consider the weakest element of the film, and what could be considered the most volatile component of the production would be the performances. The adult performers all give their absolute best, with high commendation given specifically to Ethan Hawke who's consistently impressive in all the scenes he's in. It's not the adults which many were worried about, though; the child actors were rightfully judged even before many stepped into the theatre (this including myself). And whilst Coltrane plays his part relatively well, and improves over the duration of the film, many of the other child actors didn't do as well. Mason's sister, Samantha, is played by Lorelei Linklater, and whilst her performance eventually reaches an acceptable peak, much of the younger years of her performance are quite underwhelming in regards to her acting ability. It's most certainly not anything too overtly cringe-worthy or distracting to undermine the performances of others too greatly, though it is certainly notable. Though as I said, Lorelei's performance does even out eventually, so her acting isn't wholly disappointing. This is the risk associated with bringing child actors into a production, though, and more often than not, these child actors wholly fail in their attempts to act. Here, though, the vast majority of the cast, whether it be younger or older, are generally rather impressive. It's just a few performances that, in the general scope of the film, seemed rather lackluster, that threatened to tip the scales in an unfavorable way. Fortunately, the good far outweighs the bad in relation to performances, and so my final rating shan't be effected too greatly by any poor performances.

Unsurprisingly, Linklater wrote the entire screenplay himself, which is what he is rather fond of doing for his own films; see Slacker and Dazed and Confused for examples. It's unknown as to how much dialogue truly was written down in the script, and how much was impromptu conversation created by the actors and actresses on set, so I'll keep off the dialogue as best as I can whilst discussing Linklater's screenplay. The direction of the film that is set about from the screenplay appears to be translucent, though I believe this was intentional; as is the case with reality, the direction of life is never really clear as an adolescent growing up. From the beginning of the film, you can't really decipher exactly where the film intends upon treading, though as Mason grows older, things start to come into place; you realise his ambitions, and start to understand his passions and desires in life. You witness his growing love for photography, and how that effects other parts of his identity and being. You see the relationships he forms with teachers, who help him in discovering his path. These key characteristics that Mason sports later on in the film do not seem to appear throughout his younger years, and this again supports the notion that as a younger boy, Mason is unknowing of where he wishes to go after school. 

As a younger boy, Mason is less so an independent character, and so he shares a greater deal of his scenes with older characters. These are the scenes in which Ethan Hawke truly shines in his role as Mason's father, as we get to witness his growing relationship with Mason. Initially, Mason's father seems to be reminiscent of the cliched estranged father that we see in films constantly; he comes along once in a while to buy things for his kids, but he seems like a genuinely poor person. Though as the film plows on, we see that his father is in fact a very loving, nice individual; he didn't abuse Mason's mother, nor abuse his children in any way. The divorce that we learn early on that took place between Mason's mother and father seemed quite realistic; they split apart simply because they didn't love each other anymore. It didn't have to be anymore complicated than that; we get to see domestic abuse later on in the film, so inserting it here seems completely unnecessary. Linklater understands that an overabundance of unlikely and highly dramatized events occurring throughout the duration of the film would certainly take a toll on the film's relatability and realism, so he minimizes the amount of improbable events that the movie sports. Perhaps this will uninterest people to a point, considering how few gigantic dramatic incidents occur, though I personally found it rather refreshing to find a film which is content to tell a story as it would, in reality, simply happen. Ethan's mother is struggling to pay her mortgage, but this doesn't lead to any major falling out with any given character, nor does it lead her into depression or anything of the sorts; no, she makes a joke of it, swears a couple of times, but then attempts to get on top of it. Nothing overtly dramatic happens because nothing overtly dramatic needs to happen at this point in time. This lack of dramatization not only contributes to the realism of the film, but helps to build up the truly dramatic highlights as truly dramatic, not just another event. It allows you to put things into perspective; the kids going to eat lunch with their dad is just that. It's just simply them having lunch, and perhaps discussing various things to do with growing up, such as puberty, interests or a combination of the two (girls). Mason, his mother and his sister going through a frightening spell of domestic abuse is a truly dramatic array of moments, which stand out from the rest of the normal occurrences that the film takes care to not over-dramatize because it's exactly the opposite; it's not a normal occurrence, and Linklater wants you to recognise that vividly.

The film as a whole feels almost laid back in it's presentation, as it's restraint and dedication to realism means you are less-so interested in the event, but the characters. The growth in each individual character is fun, engrossing and beautiful to watch, though Linklater doesn't beat you over the head with his screenplay, screaming "Look at the progression of my characters; look at how natural it looks!" Instead, it all seems free-flowing and almost care-free, thanks undoubtedly to the dialogue and discussions made by the characters. I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see that the majority of the dialogue presented in the final cut actually wasn't scripted; that the discussions that Mason and any given adult had with each other were based upon real events or actual progressions in Coltrane's life, considering Coltrane literally grew up in the scope of this film. That is the unique element that Boyhood sports, that will see it get Oscar consideration galore, as well as an immediate following from audience members everywhere. It's an individual film that I can genuinely say I can relate to; I can see myself throughout every portion of Mason's normal life. Will certain people be bored by the lack of huge, dramatic set pieces? I can assure you many will. Is it possible to simply see this as a highlight reel of a young boy's adolescence? I've already seen many take issue with the pacing and "lack of character-related substance" that Boyhood sports. Nevertheless, Boyhood is worth a watch solely for it's premise. If you give it your time and effort, all of it's 2 hours and 45 minutes, I can assure you that there is a great chance that you'll enjoy yourself. Whatever the case, I don't believe there are too many better ways to spend 2 hours and 45 minutes at the present; so I urge you to support original and creative film-making by purchasing a ticket to Boyhood and embarking on a cinematic journey (I don't generally use the term journey, though I feel it's warranted for such a film as this) that may very well transfix you with it's undeniably warm heart and soul. 


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