Groundbreaking. If I had to describe the Richard Linklater-directed film “Boyhood” in one word, that would be the word I would use. Boyhood tells the story about a boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he ages from 6 to 18 years old. The film examines the relationship he has with his divorced parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke) as he grows into adolescence. We as the viewer literally see Mason and the rest of the cast grow up through our very eyes as the film was shot over the course of 12 years; from 2002 to 2013. Every year during the 12 year period the cast and crew would get together for a few weeks to shoot the story. This movie could have easily ended in a terrible and humiliating way.
But it does just the opposite. Boyhood is a masterful epic depicting the early life of Mason and the personal struggles he goes through. Ellar Coltrane’s performance as Mason is simply mesmerizing. As he grows, he becomes more comfortable and relaxed in front of the camera. He approaches the character of Mason with such delicacy and assurance. Coltrane’s performance is something you’ve never seen from a child actor before in cinematic history. Throughout the film, you could understand that Coltrane cared about Mason throughout the 12 years, and wanted to make sure he was able to create a sense of friendship and warmth between himself and the audience. He makes us care for him as he grows and develops into manhood. One of the greatest child acting performances of all time and one of the best performances of this year.
Mason’s mother, Patricia Arquette, delivers an intimate and caring performance as Olivia. Arquette is able to add the the realism of this epic as she approaches issues in her life such as her marital problems, financial issues, and struggling to go to complete school. We feel we’re right there with Olivia at the table every time she gives a moment to cry as all the problems in her life are of too much stress to her. We feel for her and care about her without her trying to persuade us to feel such a way. Arquette delivers a beautiful performance. It’s time for her to earn her first Oscar nomination.
Ethan Hawke delivers an unforgettable performance as the father of Mason and Samantha. Hawke continues to impress on film after showcasing his amazing talent in the Before series, also directed by Linklater. Hawke is unreserved and intriguing as Mason Sr.. Hawke adds to the realism that is already apparent in the film by delivering his lines so naturally and with ease like in his previous work. Hawke is the heart to this film; sending a message to chase your dreams and to believe in yourself. He gives us an interesting look into being a divorced father and just being a person. His performance in Boyhood proves that he is a reliable, yet under-appreciated, talent in Hollywood. He continues to surprise us with his brilliance.
Then there is Mason’s sister Samantha, played by Lorelei Linklater (daughter of Richard Linklater). You unknowingly fall in love with her character throughout the film as she ages graciously from girl to woman. She provides such comfort, personality and warmth in her performance that you forget that this is a story and not for real. Linklater’s performance is just as outstanding and pitch perfect as the other members of the dynamic cast. She provides a breath of fresh air in this film and in the film industry as a whole. I hope that her performance is one that will be remembered for some time.
Overall, Boyhood is an unbelievable and powerful coming-of-age epic. It’s an epic without trying to be one. The performances are so natural, real, caring and strong. The direction is done with tenderness and love. The script is masterful. Linklater has done great work in the past with Before Surise, Before Sunset, School of Rock, Before Midnight, and Bernie. However, he has now done his best work to date with Boyhood. When the creators of film were alive over a century ago, this was what they had in mind. In Boyhood, we were emotionally invested in these characters. We cared for them, worried for them, laughed for them, and cried for them. You didn’t want the film to end. You wanted it to continue. You wanted to see what new journeys Mason and his family would embark on. I’ve always said that in order for a film to be successful, it needs to have the ability to emotionally attach itself to the audience and it did just that. Boyhood is one of the finest films in the history of cinema. Period. It is an instant American classic.