I want to be clear about something. There is a huge difference between a gimmick and a risk. There's a lot of animosity towards Boyhood right now because it's getting such rave reviews and critics are saying people are just being suckered by its gimmick. However, this film easily deserves every bit of praise it has earned. It's currently the first film in nearly 15 years to have a 100% on Metacritic. Although that doesn't necessarily mean much, it's evident that people are impressed by something more than the fact that the film took 12 years to make.
This is the story of a boy, Mason, from the age of 5 until he turns 18 and heads off to college. Director Richard Linklater could have easily used several actors to play Mason at varying ages and used makeup on parents Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette to show aging. It's done all the time. However, he instead decided to find a five-year-old actor, invest in his life, and shoot footage every year for 12 years. The risk is phenomenal. What if the actor, Ellar Coltrane, went through some kind of weird puberty and suddenly couldn't act? What if he didn't want to? What if something terrible happened to him, or Linklater, or any of the film's stars? What if the money ran out? There are so many reasons no one does this when making a movie, and so many reasons why it's incredible that the film turned out the way it did.
I'm already a Linklater fan, I admit. While he's had some crappy movies over the years, the Before Sunrise series is one of my favorites of all time. And Dazed and Confused is awesome. He is one of the best writers/directors at making movies about regular people doing regular things. Although not everyone gets to meet a lovely stranger on a train in Europe - and then have a long relationship that includes thirty years - the characters and their hopes and fears are about as honest and personal as you get in any art form, not just film. Therefore, I went into Boyhood hoping for something as meaningful as Before Sunrise - and I got it.
For starters, Boyhood is three hours long. And it's the shortest three hours in history. When there were only about 20 minutes left, I was disappointed. I didn't want it to end. I wanted this movie to be 20 hours. I would love a sequel, although clearly it will be a decade before we see that, called Adulthood, although I suppose that Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight basically cover all those fears and concerns well already.
Told in a series of vignettes, of small and seemingly meaningless moments, in a boy's life, Boyhood is a movie about growing up. This is a coming of age story that truly is. We watch Mason, along with his sister and his parents, change, grow up, make mistakes, and basically live their lives like all of us do. Will every viewer have the same experiences? No, obviously not. But everyone remembers their first crush, their first breakup, the first time they felt disappointed with their parents. We all remember our crappy first job, or the time we did something we thought was so rebellious, like drinking beers in an unfinished house.
What I love about this film is that I feel like your experience with it would vary based on how you old you are when watching it. A teenager who sees it will likely rant about the tyranny of Mason's parents, while someone with children of their own may worry about their own kids getting their hearts broken right before Prom. I also think that how you respond to the dialogue will change based on your own experiences and again on age. Towards the end, there is this heartbreaking moment when Patricia Arquette expresses her disappointment in life, and I think that resonates so much with people whose youngest child is heading off to college and is leaving them alone, now with a life that's all theirs and yet empty. Meanwhile, at the very end, there is a conversation between Mason and a girl he meets at school that's certainly pretentious, but honestly so, if that makes sense. It's the kind of conversation you have at 18, when the world is laid out fully in front of you, and it's one that is hopeful to young people but earns a cynical head shake from people older. The best part is that the film doesn't tell you who's right, because both people are. Instead, it opens up dialogue about life in general, about stages of growth, and about how we interact as we age.
This is seriously one of the best movies I have ever seen. I went into it thinking it had a 50/50 chance of being terrible. I didn't know if we would get a profound look at the world through the development of a child, or if it would be a pandering and desperate attempt at being artsy. I say it is absolutely, without doubt, the former, but I know there are viewers who find it to be the latter. For me, though, I cannot find fault with even one moment of this film, and I feel like everyone on the planet needs to see it. At the same time, I feel like maybe it's one of those "you get it or you don't" kinds of things, like Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine. I will say that if you like Dandelion Wine, chances are you will adore this film.