Richard Linklater’s latest is an odd duck of a movie. Spanning 12 years in the life of a Texas family, and filmed with the same cast for those years, Boyhood feels less like a movie and more like life itself. It meanders aimlessly with seemingly fresh starts that don’t lead anywhere and characters who pop up only to disappear as quickly. There are constants as well: a single mother (Patricia Arquette) gradually finding herself and a somewhat deadbeat divorced dad (Ethan Hawke) who is frequently absent but always returns.
The main attraction, of course, is watching the children grow up. Ellar Coltrane is Mason, the Boy of the title, and Lorelei Linklater is his sister Samantha. The movie puts the audience in the position of doting parents as we see them go from somewhat bratty kids to semi-mature college students over two and a half hours. The extent to which their experiences with drunken stepfathers and frequent moves shape their character is left ambiguous.
There are other pleasures as well – cast members from other Linklater movies show up, including Wooderson’s GTO from Dazed and Confused (1993). And Linklater’s flair for showing adolescent angst is in display; the movie mostly takes off when the kids are in high school.
But I have a few quibbles with the movie. First, Mason’s story could have used some sort of narrative arc. The Mom and Dad characters grow up, Mason just sort of IS. Second, I would have preferred if the movie was about Samantha. While I’m generally against nepotistic casting, Linklater’s daughter Lorelei has a natural charm that made it a disappointment when her character Samantha more or less disappeared from the film.
That said, the movie is well worth seeing, even at the current extortionate theater prices. Just make sure you go to a theater with comfy seating for this 166 minute film.
Overall Score: 90
Letter Grade: A-