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Monday
Jan202014

Sundance: With "Boyhood", We Can Officially Crown Richard Linklater King of Longform Cinema

Our Sundance Film Festival continues with Nathaniel on Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" 

Life can sneak up on you. Individual moments may linger and shape us but most of life's power is cumulative. It's all in the daily living. When narrative art wants to approach the impossibly grand subjects of Life Itself or at least whole huge swaths of it like Falling in Love or Coming of Age or Starting Over, it's usually in the form of a snapshot: one season, one day, one year, one life-changing event. Richard Linklater's incredible Boyhood, 12 years in the making and longer still gestating before that, starts small. When we first meet Mason Jr (Eller Coltrane) he's a boy of 6 or 7, and not that much different than any little boy... staring at clouds, playing outside, fighting with his sister. But Boyhood has much larger scope and Linklater wanders right out of the singular snapshot and bicycles straight for the mosaic. And what a mosaic! [more...]

By the time we leave him twelve years later he's rapidly becoming his own person, leaving home and, thus, childhood behind. There's no stopping the flow of time and Richard Linklater's most audacious move was not attempting to dam it up. Instead the writer/director merely helps it flow; the movie was shot over a period of 12 years with the actors reconvening each year for a few more days of shooting. I've always and still wish that Linklater's work, so absorbingly written and performed, had more visual verve but Boyhood does have one rather astonishing visual effect. Mason's parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, both as terrific as they've ever been), Mason and his older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director's own daughter) all age together as they're living out these fictional lives. It's a simple enough making-of concept, if radical in execution -- people think Kubrick took a long time to make a movie? -- but the reward is a completely lived in bruisingly tender family portrait. If Boyhood has one significant shortcoming it may well be its title. I worried that the movie would be too boy-centric (and lord knows the cinema has delivered more than enough coming of age stories about young men) but the movie is so expansive, and so empathetic to all of its characters that there were times I wanted to rename it Parenthood, or Sibling Rivalry, or simply Childhood

Plot descriptions wouldn't do the movie any justice at all, since the story beats are mundane enough to sound dull (a bike ride, camping with dad, meeting a new future step-parent, a run in with a bully in the bathroom) even if they usually resonate in the watching. Like Linklater's heretofore definitive work, the Before trilogy with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, Boyhood is less about its narrative than the experience of making one's own story through living, romanticizing, examining and sometimes confronting life itself.

I was sitting in my seat letting the 164 minute running time cascade over me not really thinking about what I thought of the picture but just observing it. I was enjoying it mostly as a series of snapshots, some more successful then others, but as Mason Jr hit 15 I began to wonder where this was all going, what it all meant, and 'omg how am I already this old?'. It was only then I realized that I was completely in the shared headspace of this family, and each member, too. The lump was in my throat and my eyes were wet before I knew it; It snuck up on me. Individual moments sing and amuse and bore and threaten and meander... but oh how its cumulative effect grows. It packs the gentlest of punches but you'll be floord.

Grade: A-
Distribution: Yes. IFC Films will distribute in 2014. 

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Reader Comments (18)

So jealous. So, so jealous. I cannot wait to see this.

January 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

This is easily my most anticipated for movie of the year. I'm glad you liked it!!

January 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterQueermyntcritic

So exciting! I had the same feeling at the end of 'Another Year,' though that's very much a "snapshot" movie of this sort.

January 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBRB

Well, that was earlier than expected. (I was expecting it next year. Kind of stupid in retrospect.) Shame IFC Films, who has only managed a single Oscar nomination so far, in any category, has a hold of this.

January 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Linklater getting his Bresson on again! Eagerly anticipating this although I want to hear how it faces critics in Berlin.

January 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

Sounds cool. And it's coming out in May, making it just another huge profile movie (Grand Budapest Hotel, Nymphomaniac, etc) coming out in the first half of the year. I'm really digging these increasingly compressed film festival-to-theatrical release windows.

January 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

Nathaniel, that was beautifully written.

January 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

I'm so excited. I'm particularly excited to see Patricia Arquette because I'm a huge fan of her work on Medium and I think she's a fantastic actress.

January 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

Been looking forward to watching this since I'd first heard of it years ago. Linklater, at his best, has a keen anthropological eye for human interaction that always feels immediate and authentic. And I disagree with you on the point that his films having a lack of visual verve is a negative. I think the simplicity of his directing is not only refreshing (when compared to all the style-over-substance directors making films today) but absolutely necessary; his best work is concerned with how human beings interact with each other and a flashy directing style would detract from the story and characters.

Just my two cents.

January 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMDA

I never used to be a huge Linklater fan but after Before Sunset/Midnight (still my favourite of 2013), and this review - - I'm mad with excitement

January 20, 2014 | Unregistered Commentergoran

MDA -- i'm not opposed to simplicity. Michael Haneke and Woody Allen and many others directors I admire have relatively adornment free visuals... but it's that Linklater's visuals rarely feel interesting to me... like the frames aren't interesting and apart from when he directs those long continuous walking shot conversations (which i love) he doesn't seem to have any ideas that aren't tv style ideas about how to watch people talking to each other.

I dunno. maybe i'm complaining for nothing because i love the film. But i had the same issue with blue is the warmest color. I can only take so many closeups or samey medium shots in a movie when i start thinking "isn't there anything else about this person you want to show me besides their face?" or that particular pose they hold?

January 20, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Oh boy so excited to see this now, the reviews have been great from what I've seen online, I was really worried it would come off as a failed experiment or a novelty. I remember when in Before Sunset they flashed back to 8 years earlier and back I was astonished at how much older Delpy and Hawke looked, it makes you think about aging and the meaning of the passage of time, things Linklater does better than anyone else in film today.

January 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRami

Can't wait to see it. Always wanted to see a movie like this.

January 21, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbbats

Super excited for this film. I am hoping IFC knows what they are doing here: keep doing the festival circuit and buidling momentum to the fall for the awards season. This looks to be amazingly heart felt and real. Intimate films like this are hard to find.

I am truly excited to see Arquette in this. Having been a longtime fan since her incredible work in 1991's 'Wildflower", she has turned out one amazingly intuitive performance after another all these years. She truly captures the human experience in a gentle, insightful, non-dramatic, and fragile way. I expect the same here. I truly hope for her to receive awards for this, ala an Oscar and Independant Spirit.

January 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMWA

This sounds AWESOME.

January 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

I'm salivating over this movie. Seriously, it cannot come fast enough. I'm wracked with jealousy that anyone gets to watch it before me.

@Nathaniel--I'm also totally interested in your response to films which have a limited visual scope. I agree with you that a lack of visual ideas can be totally enervating, but I feel like there are times, Blue Is The Warmest Color included, where visual limitation adds to the experience of watching. For example one of my favorite films is Derek Jarman's Blue, which is just audio over a blank blue screen, but the expansiveness of the ideas expressed in the audio gives the blankness of the screen meaning and power to me. I guess my question would be do you ever find that limitation adds interest for you, or do you always find limitation frustrating/boring/a sign that a director lacks imagination?

January 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTB

I'm excited to see this but I have minimal expectations from IFC. They need a new business plan and strategists. But they have gotten three screenplay nominations since their inception (Y Tu Mamá También, My Big Fat Greek Wedding and In the Loop).

January 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMorgan

No. Boyhood was an experiment - an amazingly dull experiment with no narrative drive at all.

You want long form narrative? Apparently, the author never heard of Michael Apted or the Up series.

August 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJonah Falcon

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