Monday, August 4, 2014


seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

You hear parents talk all the time about how time flies by so fast when they're watching their kids grow up. Not being a parent, I wouldn't know what that's like, but I suppose it's analogous to watching a child actor on a long-running TV show grow up. You have a fixed image in your mind of what they look like based on time spent with them, and then suddenly that image changes. Maybe you liked them better when they were younger, maybe not, but these changes are happening and you can't stop it. All you can do is adjust.

Richard Linklater has accomplished a minor miracle in his film Boyhood by charting, within a single fictional narrative, the course of an adolescent life (two lives, actually) as time has its way with it. We've seen plenty of movie series in which the characters age from one film to the next, but by compressing the aging process into one movie after filming it piecemeal for twelve years provides a truly unique viewing experience.

By now, you're probably aware of the story: young Ellar Coltrane began the movie at age six back in 2001, and little by little, Linklater shot sections of the movie a year at a time as Ellar aged. Linklater's daughter, Lorelei, a few years older than Ellar, also stars in the movie and we see her grow up as well. Given that, this probably should've been called "Childhood" instead, but the focus of the story does rest primarily with Ellar.

Because there are no clear breaks from one time period to the next, Ellar seems to age literally in the blink of an eye, and the effect is jarring. It's not obvious at first, but suddenly, over the course of the movie, we see him get taller, we hear his voice get deeper, we see hair growing on his face, and he's grown up before we know it. Lorelei ages as well, of course: she dyes her hair at one point, she gets taller, her chest develops - although unlike her cinematic brother, she retains a very youthful appearance even in adulthood. Mom Patricia Arquette and dad Ethan Hawke change their hairstyles. Especially Arquette. (She also gains weight.)

There's a universality in Boyhood that's easy to identify if one knows where to look. Like Ellar's character, I grew up with an older sister, and we, too, had to share a room (and that was about as fun as you can imagine). I also developed an artistic eye and worked at developing it, and I had my own romantic relationship as a teen that didn't end well. If you're worried about spoilers, well, I don't think this is the kind of movie that can be spoiled the way other movies can. The value is less in following the plot than in watching the passage of time and seeing its effects.

Richard Linklater has said that Boyhood doesn't necessarily focus on the big dramatic moments that one would expect in a family drama, but there are certainly dramatic highlights. I was expecting something resembling isolated vignettes, with the common thread being Ellar's progression through adolescence, but there is a loose narrative at play here - the kids coping with their parents' divorce, Mom continually getting into bad relationships, Dad desperately overcompensating by trying to be the "fun" parent even in absentia, Ellar's growing independence coupled with his love of photography, etc. 

Such plot lines don't follow the usual narrative arcs, and maybe by not doing so, we can learn a thing or two. Because Boyhood snatches pieces of a life, some bits of information get left out, and we have to fill in the gaps because sometimes, we just don't know what happens after certain people leave our lives. Circumstances don't allow for it, or we lose interest, or we simply forget. In its way, not knowing how certain threads resolve can be as dramatic as knowing, and I think Linklater was aware of this when he wrote this story.

Arquette carries a hefty chunk of this movie, and she does it well. A single mother raising two kids, going back to school, and getting involved in one bad relationship after another, her character's juggling a lot of balls at once and struggles mightily to retain her sanity. I think she's got a legitimate shot at a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.

As a matter of fact, I like Boyhood's Oscar chances, even though, by the producers' own admission, it'll be a steep uphill climb. This will play very well on home video, it's an easily accessible story, and most importantly, the director is a respected veteran who can be considered due for Oscar glory... but that's months from now. Boyhood is a marvel that has to be seen to be believed. And if Linklater ever gets it into his head to do a sequel, he could do a lot worse than this.


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