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BOYHOOD (review)

Review by Sharon Knolle
Produced by Richard Linklater, Cathleen Sutherland, 
Jonathan Sehring, John Sloss
Written and Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, 
Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke

With Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s done something no one ever has before: Following a boy (newcomer Ellar Coltrane) from age 5 to 18 by filming him in stages over 12 years.

The early reviews for have been rapturous and it’s already won awards and made several “best of 2014” lists.

I went into the screening very excited, expecting a lyrical, moving depiction of childhood.

I waited to be moved, to get caught up in it like everyone else who had seen it.

And I waited.

And waited.

And, after a while, I began waiting for the movie to be over.

At nearly three hours, it’s at least 30 minutes too long, losing steam just as it should be hitting its stride as Mason prepares to head to college.

But length isn’t the film’s only problem.

While I greatly admire Linklater’s experiment, I never felt invested in Mason’s life. And the story that unfolds is, unfortunately, fairly generic. Maybe the lack of “big” events makes it refreshingly anti-mainstream, but it also makes for a film that’s – apart from one thrown glass at the dinner table – determinedly anti-dramatic.

Coltrane’s never acted before: he was handpicked by Linklater for this, his film debut.

He’s fine in the role, but he’s also playing a character who’s fairly indifferent to the world around him. He grows up to be a “cool” kid, one who’s into photography and doesn’t know if college is the right path for him. It’s certainly interesting to see Coltrane grow up in front of our eyes but that alone does not make for a compelling film. I wanted to like Mason, I wanted to care about his life, but I just did not get hooked anywhere along the way.

Sure, I sympathized as he suffers frequent moves and new stepfathers. But I didn’t particularly like Mason, to be honest. He’s simply not that interesting of a character to follow for that long. While it’s gotten much less stellar reviews, I have to say I preferred the kids in Earth to Echo, who all were more sympathetic, complex, relatable characters in a film that’s about half as long.

Linklater cast his own daughter, Lorelei, as Mason’s sister Samantha and she also undergoes dramatic transformations during the course of the movie, as does Patricia Arquette, who plays their harried single mother.

The most interesting part of the film comes courtesy of the more experienced actors: the terrific Arquette and frequent Linklater leading man Ethan Hawke, who plays Mason’s irresponsible father.

At first, Mason Sr. tries to bond with his kids after a long absence and casually smokes and swears in front of them. He drives a much-prized vintage muscle car that he eventually swaps for a minivan, along with a new wife and a baby. Seeing him go from self-centered, behind-the-eightball dad to responsible adult is an interesting journey, as is seeing Arquette (morphing haircuts along the way) go from night school student to self-assured professor.

There are scenes that stayed with me, like Mason being presented with a gun and a Bible from his grandparents on his birthday, but the film, as a whole, just failed to catch fire for me.

Boyhood is an interesting film experiment, but one that didn’t speak deeply to me on any level.

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