Film Review: Boyhood

Filmed over a period of twelve years with the same actors, Boyhood is the story of  Mason’s experience of life in his turbulent family as he grows from a thoughtful, if ill-disciplined child to a hormonal adolescent. Beyond witnessing Mason’s experience of childhood as he gradually becomes an adult, Boyhood offers no ‘storyline’ in a strict sense, and at nearly three hours, the film should by all rights be a mildly diverting test of endurance. It’s not. Boyhood is a brilliant film: absorbing throughout, insightful, moving – yet staunchly unmelodramatic – and often very funny.

The fascination induced by witnessing the characters grow and change never ceases, and the sense of time’s passage is further aided by an abundance of great pop-culture references in the form of  music, videogames and films (particularly of note is a hilariously un-clairvoyant conversation about the likelihood of more Star Wars sequels). This novelty does by no means distract from or compensate for other aspects of the film; instead, Linklater (the director)’s innovative approach serves to create a particular sense of immersion and authenticity that draws the viewer into the lives of  characters and helps us take a real interest in them.

Perhaps Boyhood’s greatest strength is its characterisation. Linklater paints his characters with a rich, broad palette of humanity, and often within minutes of being introduced to a character, they intrigue us, as they somehow both meet and subvert our expectations of them. Ethan Hawke’s character Mason Sr. is undoubtedly the most compelling and fun to behold: initially a weak, cliched character, we first meet Mason Sr. as an immature part-time father with a fast car and no prospects, but he gradually proves to be a good parent, with a good heart and unconventional wisdom to spare.

Of course, characterisation means nothing without good writing, and again, Boyhood really excels here: the film is peppered with engaging scenes filled with amusing, thoughtful dialogue. Boyhood isn’t without imperfections, however. Mason, for example, grows into a sullen, occasionally irritating teenager, prone to pontificate nasally on pseudo-profound ideas, and while this is clearly a trait Linklater wanted to write into his protagonist, it can get a little grating at times. Additionally, at college, Mason’s relationship with his girlfriend lacks the interest or momentum of the family dynamic which benefits the film earlier on, and could probably have been edited to reduce the 164-minute running time.

If you can get past its one-and-a-half flaws, Boyhood is real cinematic treat: full of wit, wisdom and refreshing sincerity, the film is an asset to cinema and stands easily amongst the best of the year.

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