Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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Kirk Baird


‘Boyhood’ grows up like no other film



I’m not sure I’ve ever reviewed a current movie for The Blade not scheduled to play Toledo.

Then again, I’ve never seen a film like Boyhood.

In fact, no one has.

The latest from Austin director Richard Linklater, Boyhood follows a 7-year-old Texas boy named Mason through his 19th year, as he begins college and ends the first chapter of his life.

While the story outline might not sound wholly original or interesting, the fact that Mason is played by entirely by the same actor, Ellar Coltrane, does and is. And that’s what makes Boyhood so ambitious and utterly unique.

In a miraculous and unparalleled achievement in filmmaking, we literally watch Mason/Coltrane grow up before our eyes — not in a time lapse sequence of photos, but in real and meaningful moments in his maturation from boy to man: Ogling lingerie models in catalogs with friends, attempting to fit in as the new kid in school, arguing and fighting with his older and occasionally bullying sister, his first love and first heartbreak, losing his virginity, grappling with understanding the world and his place in it.

These moments are sometimes significant, sometimes routine, and all important in forming Mason’s identity, one that’s refreshingly honest and real for a film role.

Boyhood isn’t just about Mason, either: his loving and free-spirited father (Ethan Hawke) is around just enough to make Mason miss him all the more. His working-class mother (Patricia Arquette) strives for a better life for her children and herself, but struggles with abusive relationships in her own life. Mason’s slightly older sister (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s real-life daughter) bullies and taunts her younger brother, but grows to love and even appreciate him. There are other friends and family members as well, who drift in and out of his life, but leave imprints all the same.

Mirroring the film’s novel concept is its structure — or rather, lack of it. Linklater doesn’t bind Boyhood to the familiar three-act screenplay, but constructs the loosest of frames in which to hang the years, months, and days of Mason’s life in a cinematic gallery.

Linklater is a filmmaker best known for his breezy, au-natural style of movies, beginning with 1991’s Slacker and 1993’s Dazed and Confused, and pushed further with his Before series: 1995’s Before Sunrise, 2004’s Before Sunset, and 2013’s Before Midnight.

The latter films are 24-hour “drop ins” every decade that chronicle a couple falling in love, making a commitment, and now trying to survive. As with Boyhood, the Before movies feature the same actors, Hawke and Julie Delpy, in the lead roles.

Watching that trilogy — presumably there will be another film next decade — in order is akin to watching the evolution of a relationship through home movies. The Before movies are an ambitious project by Linklater, but it pales in comparison to the mammoth undertaking of Boyhood, a movie that took 12 years to film.

Think of Boyhood as the ultimate selfie, only without the narcissism, and far more interesting and enthralling. It’s a film you can’t stop watching. Until it ends. And even then you wish Boyhood was only the beginning of an extraordinary work in progress.

Boyhood opens today in Detroit and expands into Ann Arbor on Aug. 8, with no Toledo release date as of yet.

This is one film that’s worth a road trip.

Contact Kirk Baird at or 419-724-6734.

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