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.
Distribution: Yes. IFC Films will distribute in 2014.