Going in with the right mindset, Boyhood is a refreshing masterpiece. This picture puts any other coming-of-age story to shame simply because it outclasses the generic, phony worlds we’re usually presented with. No one’s going for an Oscar, here. There are no forced clichés or cheap tactics. This is as real as life gets in the movies, and that’s what makes it so good. It comes off as naturally genuine and holds nothing back (it never feels the need to do so, either.)
To begin with, the movie was filmed intermittently over a period of eleven years. That alone is a marvel in and of itself. Keeping a consistent cast and crew and filming for over a decade is almost inconceivable. And almost effortlessly, the dedication can clearly be seen.
Before I go any further, let’s get something straight here: this is not a “found footage” or documentary flick. We are shown six-year-old Mason Jr. (played by Ellar Coltrane) growing up over a twelve year span. It is a film that takes us through the years almost episodically. Were you expecting a plot? This is life. Problems are timely, recurring, and numerous, which make it feel like a T.V. show, but even more gripping. It captures so many aspects of life that you’d have to be dead not to relate to it in some way. Remember those radical ’90s fads? Those awesome Spiderman pajamas? How about Dragonball Z? Britney Spears (in her prime)? Any time you moved? The friends you left behind? When the Facebook was new? Chances are, it’s there. It’s like bingo. You feel like you’re growing up all over again with Mason and his sister (Lorelei Linklater) and you can’t help but smile. Feel free to shed a tear or two on the journey.
As bittersweet a feeling nostalgia is, it’s like I stated earlier. The movie is quite honest in its representation. In the opening, we see the young boy and his older neighbor tagging the underside of a bridge. Later on, they view soft pornography. Aging further, we see him getting involved with teen issues, such as drugs, girls, and sex. Despite the dubious nature of the content, it feels strangely satisfying that they don’t leave anything out. And surprisingly, you don’t feel unclean as you’re sitting there watching it happen. I know I felt an odd sensation of empathy watching all this innocence with my brain telling me, “Yeah, you know you did that once. Hold your criticism.” If anything, Boyhood deserves a medal for not giving us the same, old, tired stereotypes we’re used to (namely adults with Atticus Finch personas and children preinstalled with innately perfect moral compasses). Mistakes and mischief happen. The filmmakers know this, and they show it exceptionally well.
But for every guilty pleasure there are moments where the film becomes brutally honest with other milestones. Divorce is present; alcoholism, abuse, prejudice, among others. Amazingly, these shocking scenes (especially the ones where the parents argue in front of their kids) are fantastic. You really begin to feel the emotional impact it has on their family and how hard the mother (played very well by Patricia Arquette) works to keep it together. Even when they’re with their fun dad (Ethan Hawke) you start to question the safety of the kids and wish you could whisk them away yourself. But in all seriousness, that’s life. Everything and anything can happen. Children may find themselves in harmful environments every now and then, and there’s not always an easy solution.
I won’t say the film is perfect. Few, if any, ever are. Sometimes the movie is sporadic and clever in its transitions, but of course, every once in a while we have a few lengthy conversations that slow down the momentum. That’s about it. But trust me: it’s all part of the experience.
To truly understand Boyhood, I will say that you have to expand your mind after you’ve seen it. Granted, it’s over two and a half hours long, so it may take a while for everything to sink in. Once it does, however, it feels like a spectacular epiphany. It almost feels like you’ve watched yourself grow up again, and when it’s over, those warm feelings of nostalgia rush and tell you to put your life in perspective. Props to the filmmakers leaving out any hammering in of morals. The ending is so abrupt and clever that it leaves you in that wonderful state of confusion; and later, wonder. Boyhood’s charm comes from that and its spot-on portrayal of life in the mid-’90s and 2000s. This is a movie that will survive through the ages because it figuratively shows America’s dark side. For those reasons and so much more, it’s an entertaining spectacle that is well-worth your time. If I didn’t know any better, I would call this an exciting social experiment surrounding the human condition. Mason’s subtle changes brilliantly illustrate our ever-changing maturity. As he says: “we are always in the moment.”