At the beginning of this year, I proclaimed Richard Linklater’s masterpiece Before Midnight as the best film of 2013. I then favorably reviewed the entire Before Trilogy and his slacker masterpiece Dazed and Confused. I came to the agreement that Richard Linklater is a supremely talented filmmaker, but only until today did I realize he may be one of the best writer/directors to ever live. The reason? Boyhood. Plain and simple.
Please forgive my inane, over-enthusiastic ramblings here, as I am one of many people who were completely hypnotized by this masterpiece. Boyhood is an unconventional epic – there are no chariots or wars, but instead we are presented with a suburban odyssey that tells the story of Mason, a simple boy just growing up. He has no particular talents, nor is he remarkably special in any way. He is just a kid trying to navigate the strange and confusing years of maturing. Linklater was absolutely tenacious with this project, filming a little every year for twelve years. It could have easily just drifted off into oblivion, as Linklater has directed eight films since beginning filming Boyhood in 2002. It may have been daunting to keep at it, but he did and he has crafted a brilliant film.
The performances in this film are basically what gets to you. First of all, Ellar Coltrane is amazing as Mason. We start to feel a connection to him, as he is obviously not a professional actor, and his performance isn’t anything fancy. He simply grows up. That isn’t to diminish his performance in any way, because he gives a nuanced, quiet performance that while not dramatic and showy, is extraordinarily complex and beautiful just below the surface. This isn’t some spoiled brat child actor we have here – we have a normal, unassuming kid who grows up in front of our eyes. He feels less like an actor and more like an old friend. There is also an amazing performance by Patricia Arquette as Olivia. For too long, Arquette has been shafted into supporting roles and roles where she doesn’t get to show off her talents. Here she can finally give a real, hardcore performance as a mother trying her best. Her performance is extremely subtle, and that is a breath of fresh air, because with most other actresses, this role would have just been an unmemorable one, but Arquette brings class and a quiet sophistication to the role. Finally, Ethan Hawke continues to prove his brilliance as an actor by reuniting often with Linklater. In Boyhood, he is wonderful – with his awkward sense of humor and warmth in acting, Hawke plays one of the most real fathers ever displayed on film. He isn’t a drunk, abusive jerk, nor is he an ultra-cool, hip dad. He is just a good father who loves his children and treasures every moment with them. It is a great performance by a very underrated actor.
Linklater never resorts to cliche – there is no underdog overcoming an obstacle, there is no message of everything gets better if you give it time. He makes it a point to mention how life can be tough for many of us, and growing up is a challenge – there are people who enter and leave our lives, and they help define us and turn us into the people we are as adults. The experiences we have make a huge impact on us – good and bad – and help us realize that while we don’t live in a world void of pleasure and happiness, we do have the capability to make our own lives something remarkable. The message Linklater is sending across here is that even the most normal people lead interesting lives if you just look deep enough. It is an admirable message, and one I have never seen displayed so candidly onscreen, and I doubt I ever will again. Here is where it gets a little sentimental, and I take a giant leap of faith. Most prestige films haven’t come out yet, but I will make a huge assumption that none of them can top Boyhood.
Therefore I am proclaiming it one of the best of the year. However, I also want to mention how I believe that as it stands right now, Boyhood is one of the best film achievements of the century (so far, of course). It may seem a little excessive, but from what I’ve seen so far this century, very little comes close to the simplicity and sheer brilliance of Boyhood.