Review: Boyhood

Boyhood

©2014 Boyhood Inc. / IFC Productions I, LLC

A Detour FilmProduction

Written and Directed by Richard Linklater

Produced by Richard Linklater, Cathleen Sutherland, Jonathan Sehring, and John Sloss

Edited by Sandra Adair

Cinematography by Lee Daniel and Shane Kelly

Running time: 165 (5 mins. credits)

Budget: $2.4 mn. ($200K/year; made $43.4 mn. at box office)

First released at Sundance, Jan. 2014; domestic, July 2014

MPAA Rating: R (for language, some depictions of teen drug/alcohol use)

Reviewer age rating: 14+ (the language kids will hear anyway)

Stars

Ellar Coltrane; Patricia Arquette; Lorelei Linklater; Ethan Hawke; Andrew Villarreal; Jenni Tooley (Annie); Zoe Graham; Jessi Mechler; Marco Perella (Prof. Bill Welbrock, stepdad); Brad Hawkins (Jim, final stepdad)

Additional Cast (in order of appearance)

Elijah Smith as Tommy

Steven Prince as Ted (Olivia’s boyfriend after Mason Sr.)

Libby Villari as grandmother Catherine

Jamie Howard as Mindy (daughter of Welbrock)

Andrew Villarreal as Randy (son of Welbrock)

Ryan Power as Paul

Charlie Sexton as Jimmy

Evie Thompson as Jill

Nick Krause as Charlie

Roland Ruiz (Machette) as Ernesto

Richard Andrew Jones and Karen Jones as grandpa Cliff and Nana (Annie’s parents)

Sam Dillon as Nick

Jesse Tilton as April

Richard Robichaux as Mason’s boss

Will Harris as Sam’s college BF

Indica Shaw as Hooper

Andrea Chen as Sam’s college roommate

Mona Lee as high school teacher

Bill Wise as Uncle Steve

Alina Linklater as twin cousin #1

Charlotte Linklater as twin cousin #2

Maximillian McNamara as Dalton (dorm roommie)

Taylor Weaver as Barb (dorm roommie)

Review

For one of Richard Linklater’s best films, no scene is polished with visual effects or redubs, too short or treated like a “sound bite.”  Twelve years were spent filming, year-by-year, revealing actual growth of the actors, including his real-life daughter (with Christina Harrison).  Boyhood was difficult to write, piece by piece, direct and produce, on a tight budget, and Linklater does a decent job.  There have been films with multiple filming years, but not quite like this.

It stars Ellar Coltrane as the highly talented but barely disciplined Mason Jr.  In the opening scene, six-year-old Mason watches the sky, and tells his mother, Olivia (Arquette) that, “if you flick water into the air just right, it’ll turn into a wasp.”  His assignments are often incomplete, and his homework would be described by his teacher as “big, crumpled-up chunks at the bottom of his backpack.”

He gets quite a few gutterballs in life.  Mason and his older sister, Samantha , finally get to see their musician of a father, Mason Sr. (Hawke), back from Alaska.  “I wish we could use the bumpers,” the son says, landing the bowling ball in the left gutter.  The father responds, “Bumpers are for kids.  What are you, two years old?  You don’t want the bumpers.  Life doesn’t give you bumpers.”

The film is loaded with metaphors like that, as well as easter eggs.  A few of Linklaters relatives appear in the film.  (See the Cast above.)

The date at any given moment is never explicitly told.  Instead, signatures are used, including the Iraq war, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at a signing event, the kinds of phones used, and the music.  The children and the adults age as they would, and life’s struggles are never off the radar.  It doesn’t shy away from narcissism or domestic abuse.

Thankfully, the film’s politics are marginalized.  The pro-Obama woman had a dream of kissing Obama; and the anti-Obama man tells Mason, “This is private property; get off.  I could shoot you.”  And Dad gets the kids to steal the political yard signs.  His keys jangle as he moves quickly.

Of course, there’s a bit of “Dad-speak.”  Mason Sr. swears on occasion when talking to his kids; in one of the early scenes, Sam tells him, ‘that’s fifty cents for the f-bomb.’  And stepdad #2, Welbrock (Perella), in a string of drinkers that Mom brings home, teaches Mason and Randy (Villarreal) golf, and utters both “goddamn it” and “son of a bitch” when missing a hole.  It’s both funny and sad to see him drive to King Liquor, allegedly on a regular basis.

After pulling up, he says to the kids in the car, “This is just in case we have guests this weekend.”

As soon as the driver’s side door is shut, Randy tells Mason, “He always says that, but we never have guests.”

Randy blows a large gum bubble, and Mason pops it; the bubble deflates slowly.

Back home, Welbrock pours vodka into a plastic cup, with Sprite.  He then hides the bottle behind the detergent.

Linklater’s dialogue-dependent writing often surpasses the performances.  (This goes especially for the kids at their youngest.)  This is some of Linklater’s best writing.  Just the way the story’s cut together is both smooth and sharp, with obscurity for taste.  The scene where Mason gets his ‘kewl’ note from Nicole (Mechler) directly follows the one where Olivia is on the floor, crying, with Welbrock reentering the scene; most of his torso is obscured by the garage door, as he says, “Your mother had a little accident.”  There were warning signs.

But the movie rawness also made the film less visually real.  The actors could’ve been better fine-tuned in their performances to fit the scenes.  It’s a bit of a paradox that you have to extensively rehearse and reshoot to get the results right, while doing that you run the risk of losing emotional rawness.  Linklater wanted sort of a ‘raw balance’ there, but he chose not to push it, ‘playing it safe.’  (Not that he could with the budget he had.)

On what it manages to expose, I found it at times laid-back and self-centered as Mason can be.  (Personality will, however, distort one’s view of the past, so this is not unjustified.)  There’s some drug content and realistic adult dialogue, and a talk on contraception with the daughter, but there’s no catching the parents having sex or anything really embarrassing like that.  And there’s Coldplay’s Yellow, used in the opening scene; that song can ruin anything.  (To be fair, the song was popular.)  The script chooses to ignore some things that can’t be ignored if the goal was to develop a complete picture.  I would call to attention the childhood parts of Louie (FX), but the comparison might not be fair; every life is different.

There’s a unique and heartfelt touch to Boyhood, though.  Theoretically, it nails a few things.  No film has touched the long-exposure of life as this one has, a modern take at something rather old, such as watching the sky.  Linklater manages to put a lot of life into the picture, enough that it’s hard for his shy daughter, who plays Sam in the film, to watch.

Will it answer life’s questions or questions on childhood?  No, not by itself.  The film with its characters actually asks the viewer to think about those questions.  The father certainly can’t give an answer when Mason asks, entering adulthood, the point of life.  The father basically suggests ‘winging it,’ as he did.  And Olivia dives into midlife crisis/disillusionment when the nest empties.  But the film does answer some big questions, however always from the point of view of its characters.  Sheena (Graham) actually has to tell Mason that technology exists really to serve information not life.

The film tries not to force anything down the throat of the viewer, and that’s a plus.  It serves a humorous reminder—as opposed to a dark one—that life doesn’t have a point, but is instead filled with passing moments, sometimes with awkward smiles and laughs, and even some howling and whooping, and swimming, and a cute little girl that screams in joy at the Potter event.

“You know what, I’m going to be Mommy Monk.”

So much of the film is easy to watch for good reason.  Half of its 160 minutes will fly by before you know it.  Just like life.  The tone of the film changes from part to part, from childishness, to being shaken, to ‘being cool,’ to college.  It makes for a nice, poetic view at growing up.  And if you catch the secret at the end, you’ll be going, “Oh, man,” as I did.  The film might actually be deliberately long to hide its easter eggs.  You might as well buy it.  Grade: A.

Anatomy of a Scene

Approximately 52 mins. in, after Welbrock melts down (and yells “I hate squash!”), Mason is watching, on his laptop, The Landlord (2011), a Funny or Die video of Will Farrell dealing with a small toddler of a landlord (Pearl McKay).

“How many times can you watch that, Mason?” asks Samantha.

“It’s funny.”

“You know what, you need to relax,” Farrell says to Pearl in the video.

“I want my money!!!” Pearl screams in the video, with a subtitle.

“Has he ever gotten this bad before?” asks Mason, of Welbrock.

“No,” responds Randy.  “But he’s yelled a lot.”

“Yeah, but he hasn’t thrown and broken stuff,” Mindy adds.

The scene ends with Farrell telling Pearl, “you’re already drunk.”

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Review: Boyhood

Thoughts? Reply:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s