I’d decided to watch this film on a relatively lazy Saturday (lazy because I couldn’t summon the willpower to do actual work). With a film boasting 100% ratings on Metacritic and 99% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, and the whole “It took 12 years to film this entire thing”, I couldn’t think of a better way (well aside from once again, doing actual work) to spend my Saturday. There’s been quite a bit of hype surrounding this film with Boyhood being featured at a bunch of film festivals and winning what I imagine is a hefty amount of various awards. But if you’ve somehow missed out on all this hype, Boyhood, which is directed by Richard Linklater (who also did the Before series) is most easily described as an American coming-of-age film. If you’re familiar with Richard Linklater, then it’s pretty safe to come to the same conclusions I did about Boyhood before even having seen it: You can expect a lot of talking and not much else going on, but in the best way possible.
The movie itself is described well enough by the title: it’s about boyhood and the gradual transformation one boy undergoes as he enters adulthood. Although to be honest, given that you see development in more than just one character throughout the film, perhaps it would be more accurate to generalize this film to simply “Growing Up”. The neat part of the film that captured the attention of critics is that you follow the transformation of one boy played by the same actor (Ellar Coltrane) from around 7 years of age right up until he reaches his late teens. So really, there’s no kidding when you say this film is about a boy growing up, when he does so right in front of your eyes.
I think Linklater takes on a very unique direction in so many of his films. With the Before series, we saw Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke (also in Boyhood) fall in love on a train in Before Sunrise, meet again with new conflicts and continuing struggling in Before Sunset, and grapple with a more mature perspective on love in Before Midnight. In this way, we also saw these characters physically and emotionally maturing film after film to present us with a different snapshot of their relationship at that time. Boyhood has the same idea, but condensed to the span of one film, and with the transformation being more subtly introduced. The way I think it worked is that they did some filming annually for the scenes in the film. You begin by witnessing the innocence and curiosity of a seven year old boy trying to make sense of the complex situations that exist around him, and are taken on a journey along with him, as he becomes more well-acquainted with the workings of the world, asking questions and experiencing new things in an attempt to find his place in life.
What I think is kind of underemphasized or perhaps made misleading by the film title, as I’ve mentioned before, is that this film is about so much more than a young boy growing up. Every character- including the mother, the sister, the father, random side characters if they stick around long enough- in their own unique way, make profound transformations molded by life experiences. In some ways, I believe that the perspectives of the mother and father, who try their best to make a good life for their children, to be more engaging than the boy’s. I found the film a bit uncomfortable to watch in some bits, mainly because of how honest and sincere it was at portraying the awkward years.
I think that most people (I can’t really say for certain) don’t take the time to sit and reflect on the entirety of their life. Maybe looking back at some memorable moments here and there, sure; but to sit down and think about your whole life’s journey from childhood, up through puberty and adolescence, is something that isn’t really done. This film almost forces you to look inward at yourself, at all your youth’s awkwardness and misguided feelings, as they are served to you on a platter up on the screen. There are a lot of aspects of the film that you certainly won’t be able to outwardly relate to, given the distinct family dynamics and experiences; yet, in spite of all of this, one way or another there is a good amount of self-reflection that comes with viewing this film. On top of all of this, it was such an interesting experience to witness the film from the parents’ experience; watching them overcome the challenges involved with raising children and dealing with all the conflicts that hit them along the way that gave you this new experience that you wouldn’t have had growing up (not exactly anything new for parents).
As a personal note, I appreciated that I could relate to the experiences of childhood and adolescence growing up because they perfectly coincided with my own childhood (early 2000s). I sort of see this as an added bonus because of some pop culture references that rung true with my old childhood and adolescence (such as playing Halo on the early XBOX and first seeing the music video to Lady Gaga’s Telephone). These moments were far and few between but gave me this “Aha!” moment that overloaded me with nostalgia.
Nevertheless, I do have to mention that I found that the conversations in this film (usually the highlight of the Linklater’s films) weren’t as strong and intriguing as in his previous films. They didn’t capture you in the same profound way that I thought was characteristic of films like Waking Life or Before Midnight, but were probably more simply and concisely done this time around which may be suitable given the nature of the film.
All in all, this film was a relatively honest portrayal of the human condition, reminiscent of all the lingering feelings and freshness that accompanied childhood and adolescence. In a strange way, however, the film leaves you feeling melancholy. Our lives are the compilation of a series of milestones and transforming life events that we experience without thinking much of it, but what’s left after that? It leaves you feeling empty, fundamentally unfulfilled with life, with a sense of wanting more, more from life without even knowing what more you could want. There, side tangent over (thankfully without overtly spoiling anything). It’s these kinds of questions that I think are natural and worthwhile to reflect on, and I applaud the film for being so honest in that regard. And on that depressing note, I’ll let this review end here. Thanks for reading.