Boyhood was filmed over the span of 12 years (one week per year) to capture the story of a young boy, who right before your eyes, turns into a young man. But that’s the only revelation this film brings us.
Clocking in at two hours and forty-five minutes, Boyhood is a bit of a struggle to sit through. It’s an ingenuous idea, getting the same actors to commit to taking part in the filming of Boyhood over the course of 12 years of their careers, but it’s epic length destroys any sense of realness the film is trying to convey. You’ll find yourself looking at your watch several times, and when you think it is over, another year in their lives is tacked on. Even The Wolf of Wall Street, which was three hours long, didn’t feel as long as Boyhood.
Director Richard Linklater started shooting Boyhood in 2002, with Ellar Coltrane as Mason Jr., Lorelei Linklater (his daughter) as Samantha, Mason’s sister, and Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as their parents, Olivia and Mason Sr. Every year Linklater would gather the cast and crew together to capture another year in their lives, with special focus on Mason’s life.
As very young children, Mason and Samantha are adorable, especially Samantha as she teases Mason and hits him, but then turns the tables on him and tells their mom that it was Mason who had started it. Of course their mom believes her. The kids grow up through the divorce of their parents and the ups and downs of adolescence. They also endure their mother’s second marriage to an aggressive controlling alcoholic, fleeing from their home after he becomes violent and hits Olivia, not for the first time. But as Boyhood continues, and the older Mason and Lorelei get, the less adorable and fun they are, and by the time they reach puberty, they are complete bores with very little personality. It almost feels like they were forced to take part as they got older and didin’t want to.
Luckily for them, and us, Hawke appears every so often to take the kids out, whether it be bowling, or to sit around in a cafe and talk about grown up stuff, and steals the scene. But it’s near the end of the film where where Olivia breaks down as Mason is about to leave for college and proclaims to him, “What have I done to my life, why am I here?” It’s a strange moment that I didn’t quite understand, made even more strange when Mason looks into the camera. We wonder why she’s saying this at the moment her son is leaving the nest and going off to college.
And as Boyhood winds down, Mason meets his college roommate in their dormitory and off they go, with two girls, to explore the local mountains. And as Mason and one of the girls sit on a rock and talk and then kiss, we immediately know that this is the girl for him.
Boyhood is an ambitious project. Director Linklater has been successful in the past with his Before Sunrise and it’s sequel films, also starring Ethan Hawke. Before Sunrise was released in 1995, with Before Sunset coming out in 2004, and then Before Midnight in 2013, all to very good reviews. At least these three films had superb acting and plots that made sense. In Boyhood, nothing really happens. The screenwriter, Linklater, seems to have decided to let the scenes in each year of their lives play out without achieving much, and that’s what the whole film feels like. Not much of an achievement after two hours and forty-five minutes.