Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Movie with Abe: Boyhood

Directed by Richard Linklater
Released July 11, 2014

Sometimes a movie is all about how it’s made and less about its content. The question is always whether the film can live up to its premise, to accomplish its ambitious format aims and manage to tell a compelling story at the same time. Richard Linklater, no stranger to innovative projects, from the “Before Sunrise” trilogy to “A Scanner Darkly,” set out to do something remarkable in 2002: to follow the growth of one boy and his family over the course of twelve years. His finished product is a lengthy and formidable look at exactly what its title describes, a rare opportunity to truly get to know a character and its universe.

Ellar Coltrane, seven years old at the start of filming and now twenty, stars as Mason, a young boy with an active imagination and energy that doesn’t quite translate to academic excellence. His sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), is the intellectual of the family, not too enamored with her brother’s outlook on life. Patricia Arquette is their single mother who struggles to ensure that they have a fitting life, while Ethan Hawke’s absentee father stops by every once in a while with a shiny new toy and the promise of fleeting happiness.

Like “One Day” several years ago, “Boyhood” checks in on its characters at a certain time each year. While not always the same point in each calendar cycle, it’s a definitive snapshot of what is going on in the life of Mason and his family at that moment in time, usually indicated by a signature new haircut or look on the part of Mason or Samantha. That device works well and manages not to be campy or forced, instead highlighting the important developments and changes in his life over the course of these formative twelve years.

This film, unlike any other, grows with its performers. It was impossible to know what Coltrane would be like as a teenage actor when he was first cast, and this was a huge gamble. What it underlines is that life is unpredictable, and watching these characters deal with unexpected challenges is immensely interesting. Who knows what lies ahead for the young Coltrane and Linklater, but these debut performances, which are really more than just a single performance, are very strong. Arquette and Hawke do their part to craft complex characters who have to change over time without the advantage of their physical appearances providing cues. After two hours and forty-two minutes, it’s hard to forget the impact of this sizeable and grand journey.


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