Film Review: Boyhood

A nostalgia trip that seems to end stuck on the side of the road

Image from Hypable
Image from Hypable

Lauded as a “12-years-in-the-making masterpiece“, Richard Linklater’s experiment in long-term production schedules found some success at the box office despite a limited opening in the middle of the summer season.  Audiences drawn by its chronological gimmick found a very relatable picture. Boyhood is a nostalgia machine, a snapshot of societal values of the millennial age.  Yet, though it presents a beautifully natural image of the American family, the film loses its way along the journey and would have benefited from some trimming on the back-end.

Blurred between parallel narrative and real-life coming-of-age stories, Boyhood meanders through the childhood and adolescence of Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) and his Texan family.  Growing up with his motivated mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and sister Samantha – played by director’s daughter Lorelei – he goes to school, makes friends, deals with common life situations. Stitched throughout are resurgences of his divorced namesake, played by Ethan Hawke, acting as brief narrative and philosophical eddies. A focus on day-to-day interactions, relationship squabbles, and developmental dialogues helps the film demonstrate rather than declare the state of the modern family.

While Boyhood is a masterfully un-invasive depiction of domestic life, the primary question about it is whether it will stand through time.  Many of the references invoked throughout land with the 18 to 25 crowd; the film seems to relish in capturing that generation’s upbringing.  However, one wonders if this film holds the same weight for older and future audiences. Looking at critics’ responses, it is appreciated for its portrayal of life and for the plights of the estranged parents.  But for not-yet-born audiences, will Boyhood be as accurately reflective or will it consist of citations long since forgotten?

In answer to that, let it be said that Linklater has created a remarkably relatable transcendent film. Rather than forcefully spelling out the director’s view of the proper family, Boyhood allows the characters to respond naturally to each ensuing situation.  It balances real-life naturalism with subtle underlying structure and cinematically designed drama.  Though a few moments feel starkly scripted, those scenes are few and late in the narrative, detracting only slightly from the former acts’ brilliance. Ellar grows from a stiff child actor into someone who clearly enjoys what he is doing, and observing that transformation alone is worth the watch.

Though it is possible Coltrane will garner an Oscar nomination, this film will quietly pass from society’s consciousness and onto the fast-track to Criterion preservation.  Social anthropologists of the 3020s will dig this up and look back over their ancestors’ lives in this cultural time-capsule.  Much like the film, the story of Linklater’s experiment will not end in a loud bang or a soft whimper, but rather in a meaty pop that disturbs the air briefly before dissipating into the silence.  Though, perhaps in the future some will look back and reflect on that sound and know something more about us than we do now.