Boyhood is one of the most well known of the 2015 Best Picture nominees. That is because of how it was made. Writer/director Richard Linklater filmed it over the course of 12 years, shooting for a week or two each summer. The result is that we see the characters age throughout the film, especially the main character who goes from six to eighteen during the movie. The result is a film that requires evaluation on two different levels: as a movie and as a unique undertaking by Linklater. I’ll start with the latter.
Ellar Coltrane was picked to play the main character of Mason. His mother is played by Patricia Arquette and his father by Ethan Hawke. He also has an older sister Samantha played by Lorelei Linklater, the daughter of Richard. It’s not just Coltrane we see age over the course of the movie, but all four of these people. Hawke and L. Linklater do not appear in every single year. In fact, Hawke doesn’t appear in the very first year; there is just a reference to their father being in
Alaska. It makes me wonder if Linklater had not originally intended to have the father be a part of it and only added him when
Hawke was interested.
Speaking of being interested, Lorelei is in the film apparently because when she found out about it as a six year old she badgered her father until he agreed to include her. Despite being the same age as Coltrane she plays his older sister. A few years into it, though, she decided she didn’t want to keep doing it and wanted her father to get rid of her character. He told her he wasn’t going to do that and she needed to keep participating. She did.
Neither of the children could act very well when they started. (Hey, they were only six years old.) It took 4 or 5 years but then there was a noticeable improvement in the delivery of their lines. The first 5 years or so go by in the first half hour of the movie – almost as if Linklater knew he didn’t have much to work with yet. As he went along the year sequences became longer and longer. The film clocks in at about 2 hours 45 minutes in length.
Other characters also appear in multiple years as the story covers changing family dynamics, but no one else is onscreen for as long as the four main characters.
In regards to the movie itself, it’s one of Linklater’s films that isn’t about a specific story as much as it is a slice of life. In this case we get 12 separate slices of life. Linklater even works in references/homages/rip-offs of other films of his, most noticeably when a teenage Mason spends all night wandering around a city with his girlfriend just talking about whatever comes to mind.
The mom has a few relationships that are not that healthy as we see her struggle to raise the two kids. The dad pops in now and then, starting out as the “cool dad”, but eventually becoming a responsible adult. It was never clear to me if the mom and dad were ever married, but when the movie starts they are already separated.
We see Mason, and to a lesser extent, Samantha, deal with the typical things kids have to deal with – school, bullies, pressure to drink, have sex, new people in their parent’s lives, etc. We see the mom work her way through college and get a better job. We see the dad become, of all things, an insurance actuary.
Ignoring everything that went into making it, and judging it purely as a standalone movie, Boyhood is a decent film, but it probably would not have received a Best Picture nomination. I tend to either really like or really dislike Linklater’s movies. The only one that had fallen into a middle ground for me was Slacker. Boyhood is only the second Linklater film to do that for me. I liked it well enough, and it was interesting seeing the characters age, but touching down for 5-25 minutes on a few characters’ lives once a year didn’t allow me to really make a connection with who they were at that time. Just as something would get interesting it would be on to the next year. We’d just have to shrug and think, “I guess things didn’t work out for them.”
That’s not a criticism of the film; it’s just how it impacted me. The only negative thing I would say, and it’s not really that negative, is that the movie should have ended about 10 minutes sooner with Mason driving away to college. It would have been a fitting ending to his boyhood and the movie. Instead we get about 10 more minutes of him meeting a few of the people he will come to know in college. Leave that for the 2026 sequel.
In addition to the Best Picture nomination, Linklater received noms for both writing and directing. Arquette and Hawke received Supporting Actor/Actress nominations. And the movie was nominated for its editing.
The directing and editing nominations are the most deserved because of the unique aspect of how the film was made. The writing isn’t really anything impressive; it comes across like Linklater would just make up some scenes and shoot them each summer, rather than that he had a cohesive story planned out. Arquette and Hawke do decent jobs, but it feels more like they were nominated for sticking with the movie for so long. I would give the nod to Arquette as being the better of the two, but then she was also given more emotional scenes to play. And if this wins Best Picture it’s because of how it was made, not because of the overall greatness of the movie.
In regards to just the film, I would give it three out of five stars. I am adding an extra star because of what went into the making of it, especially being able to get the same people coming back year after year. This movie is probably worth checking out more for the aspect of seeing the boy grow up than for anything else about it. If it sounds at all interesting then you will definitely want to watch it.
Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars