Life Itself: A Review of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood

BoyhoodNo matter how you look at it, or whether you like the movie or not, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a milestone in the history of cinema. As a small child, when I started to pay attention to how and why movies got made, I came up with quite a few experimental ideas that would make “awesome” movies. One of them, and I’m sure I was not the only film-loving kid to have thought this, was the idea of a cast and crew getting together to film a little bit of footage every year, with the result being a movie that would span the whole life of its protagonists. Boyhood does not span the whole life of its protagonists, but twelve years following the same character is enough for me to say that it is basically the movie I imagined back then.

It is true that we have seen characters, and the actors that play them grow up before. Take, for instance, François Truffaut’s “Antoine Doinel” movies, or, if you want to be a little less highbrow, the Harry Potter movies. We met all those kids when they were, well, kids, and as the movies went on, we watched grow and become adults. Now, what makes Boyhood different, and the formal element from which it derives most of its emotional power, is that the twelve year process of watching the kid grow up is condensed to two and a half hours. I am certainly not the be-all-end-all of movie history, but I’d be wiling to say that there has never been a movie quite like it – at least not one by such a well-known and mainstream-friendly director as Linklater. The closest thing I can think of is Steve James’s documentary Hoop Dreams, which follows two inner-city Chicago boys as they try to become professional basketball players. And still, even then, the effect is not quite the same. Hoop Dreams is a brilliant movie (one of the best movies of the 199os without a doubt), but it’s also one that has a lot of stuff to stay about a lot of different themes. Boyhood is a movie that it’s only about its premise. It just so happens that its premise is life itself.

The protagonist is a Texan boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane). When we meet him he is living with his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and his mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette). His dad, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) is apparently in Alaska, and hasn’t seen the kids in a long time. What happens next is, well, a lot of things. Linklater and his crew got together to film for a couple of days for twelve years, so the film is basically compromised of different vignettes showing us the Mason’s daily life as the years go by. The relationships between the kids, and the parents change. People go through different stuff, and yet, they remain the same. By the end of the movie, everything has gone in a flash, and the thoughts of what has come to past, and what lies ahead each are equally overwhelming. When I finished watching Boyhood and thought to myself: “this is a good movie”. Fifteen minutes later, I was fighting tears and trying to not start sobbing like a baby.

Boyhood is not a perfect movie. Because of its episodic structure, some of the vignettes are much more effective than others. Its weakest moments come mid-way through the movie, as the family has to deal with a character that is the closest thing the movie has to an antagonist. These scenes don’t work as well as the rest of the movie precisely because they feel like a movie. You see, at its best, Boyhood is as low-stakes as you can imagine. It’s almost as if the movie refused to engage in any kind of drama. There are a couple of scenes involving things like sharp blades that play as uneventfully as they would in a real boy’s life. That might sound boring, but it’s actually a great thing! The movie is incredibly entertaining, and its most emotionally impactful moments come from seeing the most recognizable small moments that make up life. The other outstanding thing about the movie is that it will provide a different interpretation for everyone who sees it. To me it’s heartbreaking, but also joyful. It’s a powerful movie, and I can’t wait to hear what people take out of it.

Grade: 9 out of 10



  1. The Animation Commendation · July 16, 2014

    I had heard about this film a few years ago and am glad that it’s finally come out!

    Regarding how you said you had this idea of getting a cast/crew together and filming a little bit per year, I also had an idea of filming a movie, but from one character’s point of view. And then filming the same movie again from another character’s point of view. And now, we have the films “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him” and “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her” and “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them”. So I feel proud of myself that my dream has come to fruition :P !

    • Conrado Falco · July 17, 2014

      Really it was only a matter of time until someone made a movie out of those ideas… I’m just glad we get to see those movies now

  2. smilingldsgirl · November 9, 2014

    I loved it too. I thought it was a very brave bit of acting from Patricia Arquette because the aging process is kind of an ignored part of being a woman. I thought it was cool she was willing to say ‘yep, this is how I looked at 28 and here’s how I look at 40″. Also her lack of choices I found moving. She never had a chance to commit to her family, she just had to do it. Where Ethan Hawke’s character got to go away and decide he wanted to be a father. In some ways I think that was the key to their characters life. There were a lot of moments where characters surprised me like when Mason is given a bible and a gun. I though ‘oh boy we are going to get a speech’ but they were lovingly given and received like real life. Loved that.
    For me the only part of it that didn’t work was the high school romance. That felt more like a college romance. I didn’t relate to it. Richard Linklater is so amazing!

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