It’s funny how fast time flies! In early September last year, I began a project I cheekily dubbed “30 for 30” in celebration of my 30th birthday. The goal of this little pet project, which I named after the ESPN series of the same name, was to pick one movie for each year of my life going all the way back to 1983. Although I intended to only talk about the movie I picked for each year of my life, the project eventually evolved into something more – a nostalgic journey down memory avenue, where I’d reminisce about the days long gone and the people who impacted my life in those glory years.
Watching Boyhood is a lot like reliving those childhood experiences. Writer-director Richard Linklater, who also directed last year’s magnificent Before Midnight, conceived of Boyhood in the summer of 2002 as a project that would explore a parent-child relationship from the perspective of a child. So, for a couple of weeks every year, for the next 12 years, Linklater and a small crew, including actors Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, would gather to shoot scenes for the project in hopes that it would materialize into something worthwhile. The result is something far more than Linklater had originally envisioned—a wistful and nostalgic ode to childhood.
Linklater’s film follows Mason (Ella Coltrane) from the age of 5 to 17. As Coltrane grows up before our very eyes, so does everyone around him. We watch as his mother, played to perfection by Patricia Arquette, suffers one heartbreak after the next, enduring abusive relationships and financial stress on top of raising two children all while putting herself through college. We watch as Mason’s aloof but lovable father, played by Ethan Hawke, matures from a slacker who pops in and out of his life into a remorseful father figure. We watch as his older sister Samantha (played by Lorelei Linklater) experiences many of the same ups and downs as Mason, growing from an excited Britney Spears-loving teenie-bopper into a strong, independent woman who takes from her mom.
Most of all, we watch as a 5-year-old blossoms from a shy and inquisitive kid into an intelligent and introspective young man with a bright future ahead of him. We watch as he meets new people, learns new things, and goes places. And Linklater, who shoots the film with his trademark unobtrusive camera, gives the film the aura of a docu-drama. Although we know the story is fictional, the film feels real—from the aging actors to the emotional beats to the naturalistic dialogue to the everyday things he chooses to focus on. In fact, unlike many movies that concern themselves with the business of childhood, Linklater avoids bogging the film down with big cinematic moments like a first kiss, a first day in high school or driving a car. Instead, it’s the smaller moments like a mundane conversation with his dad about girls on a father-son camping trip that leave the biggest footprint. Boyhood is a landmark cinematic achievement. At once funny, sad, heart-warming, shocking, and breathtaking, this wonderfully acted, written and directed film reminds us that the meaning of life isn’t found in the end-goals and high aspirations but in the moments we make and cherish with one another.
Director: Richard Linklater
Writers: Richard Linklater
Principal Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater
Editing: Sandra Adair
Cinematography: Lee Daniel, Shane F. Kelly
Music: Meghan Currier, Randall Poster (music supervisors)
Running time: 165 minutes
Companies: IFC Films
Rating: R for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use