I’m a little surprised it took me this long to get to Boyhood. When it came out, I remember describing the reception to the film to several people as “second-coming-of-Christ level reviews”, considering it ended up with a perfect 100 out of 100 on Metacritic, which is virtually unheard of for a first-time release. I also remember desperately wanting to see it, but never managing to get the chance; seeing it be the massive frontrunner heading into the awards season, then watching it slowly lose momentum to Birdman; not even remembering when it was released on Blu-Ray/DVD. Well, the time just seemed right today; not to imply that finally watching Boyhood was going to amount to a chore, but the constant stream of critical praise had passed several months ago, and the film was almost three hours long. Not to mention that, from what I’d heard, the film doesn’t really have a plot, but is rather a series of moments, and all of a sudden even the critical praise Boyhood received didn’t seem to be all that compelling anymore. Now, I’ve seen plenty of films from the List that basically have the same premise as Boyhood: children or adolescents growing up, end statement, so I basically entered Boyhood wondering what else this so-called genre had to offer me, especially for 165 minutes. The answer? Nothing. Boyhood, in its basic structure and formatting, is little different from all the other coming-of-age films that litter the pages of the Book. So, why… why, I ask, is Boyhood just so gosh-dang good?
Mason, Jr. is a young boy at the turn of the millennium, living with his older sister Samantha and mother Olivia; the father, Mason, Sr. is absent, apparently in Alaska. From there, we follow young Mason’s life as he grows before our eyes, deals with the events of his life, fosters relationships both with his family (including the occasional appearance by Mason, Sr.) and with others, and generally gives us a slideshow of… wait for it…… Boyhood. Yes, I went there, and I feel bad about it. So, for those who have been utterly without electricity and running water for all of last year, Boyhood separates itself from the rest of the coming-of-age films by actually following it’s cast for the duration of time that the film takes place in, all 12 years of it. We meet the younger Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, when he is 6 years old, and we literally follow him as he ages all the way through high school and goes off to college; director Richard Linklater, always known for being an out-of-the-box director, got the cast and crew together for a handful of days of shooting a year for 12 years, so the cast, from Mason to his dad, mom, and sister, all age on the screen naturally. It’s an excellent novelty, but of course, there has to be more than just merely the novelty of the shooting premise to keep a film above water, let alone garner a slew of awards and nominations and make it onto the List (but then again…). So, what does Boyhood have to offer? I really, honestly, cannot say. I’m left at a complete loss as to what Boyhood really does offer as a film for the average viewer, or even the more fervent moviegoer who may have seen films like it before. But, and here’s the kicker; this does not mean that you should go without seeing Boyhood, quite the opposite. Even with my complete inability to ascertain exactly what made Boyhood separate from the pack, there was a magical quality about what was going on on the screen that was impossible to ignore. Here’s my best estimate as to what Boyhood actually has to offer: timelessness. It is a portrait of time itself, life itself; to experience Boyhood is to experience life, one particular phase of the life of one family, moment by moment, and year by year. It is as average as can be, with no frills or goodies like plot devices or dramatic turns or a Hollywood narrative. And that’s exactly the way it should be. What Boyhood is really offering is what we all experience, succinctly edited into a 165-minute feature film. Sure, the acting from the kids in the beginning can be a little stilted, and I would probably echo those who have said that Patricia Arquette won her Oscar for pretty much one scene near the end of the film, and even though people generally dislike Ethan Hawke, I thought he did a wonderful job here, but it’s not even really about the acting, and nor is it really a nostalgia factor; it’s a literal factor, a now factor, that has never before been successfully captured on celluloid, and who knows, may never be accomplished again.
So, if Boyhood is basically the literal cinematic encapsulation of the very experience of life as we all generally live it, then why go to the theater (or, now, rent/buy it for home viewing) to see it? Haven’t I decried other films for taking the same road that Boyhood takes, being so like regular life that they are boring as a result, and have no entertainment value? Yes, I have, and I did so in what I can only now admit as my ignorance; I assumed it was merely the genre of “lifelike cinema” that was the problem, but it’s not, and Boyhood is the example that proves that it isn’t. What all those other films tried to do but failed so rudimentarily at, Boyhood achieves. But, how; how does it manage to do so where all other films before it have failed? Once again, I answer with the only answer I can come up with at the moment: I have no idea at all. This review has been frustrating to write, because I really cannot put into words what Boyhood is, or why it works, or why someone should see it. Everything in the equation that makes up Boyhood is basic at the bottom and top level, and it should not add up to anything that is worth watching. But, still, it is. Why should you see Boyhood? Because it is unique in all of cinema, an experience you will likely never have had watching a film, but you have likely experienced in your life: life, and all that comes with it.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10