Monday, July 7, 2014

Richard Linklater's BOYHOOD--twelve years in the making--is something to see, feel and cherish

When I was a kid, I seem to recall certain movies being advertised with the tag line, Five years in the making! Something like that. The effect this was supposed to have on those of us who might purchase a ticket was to prepare us for a movie "event." Said film might have also had, in the parlance of the day, "a cast of thousands" or "spectacle like nothing you've ever seen." All of which is told you now in preparation for Richard Linklater's new movie, BOYHOOD, which was twelve years in the making, has nothing approaching a cast of thousands, and the only spectacle you'll see -- it's the one that counts, however -- is that of humanity unveiled in ways you won't quite have experienced till now. But, hey, moviegoers -- this is the real event.

On the basis of Bernie, his "Before" trilogy and now Boyhood, it seems clear to me that Mr. Linklater, shown at  left, is among and perhaps at the top of the small heap of great American filmmakers currently working. What he has done in his latest is to film the same group of actors, who make up a supposed "family," over the period of a dozen years, in which the young son of the group ages from something like six years old to 18. (Maybe it's 7 to 19, but you get the point.) We watch and marvel as this adorable kid named Mason (Ellar Coltrane, on poster, top) grows and ages, his features -- as well as his thought processes -- deepen and mature with experience until he becomes the young man, below, who is about to spread his wings and try. We've seen kids age in plenty of movies previously. But never like this. It's the same kid, at every age and in every moment, and the verisimilitude pulls you into his character in ways not experienced in film until now.

The same thing works with on us via Mason's parents -- played by Patricia Arquette (below) and Ethan Hawke (further below, center). They may already be adults when the film begins, yet they, too, change and grow remarkably and believably during the course of things. Mason's older sister, Samantha (played by Lorelei Linklater, the director's daughter, shown two photos down, at left, and at bottom, center), occupies a place somewhere between Mason and his parents. She's older and a bit more "formed" when we first meet her, yet still a kid, so her growth is perceived slightly differently throughout. This evolving family unit is a first for cinema, and though it may remind you of Michael Apted's "Up" series, because it's a narrative contained within a two-hour-and-46-minute running time, it works on us in quite a different way. (Don't be frightened by the film's length: There's not a boring scene to be found.)

The experience of watching these actors play the same character from year to year to year is a rich one, and the screenplay, also by Linklater, using some help from his very able actors, is equally rich, allowing us to observe the ways in which these people change -- and the ways in which they don't or can't. (Mom has the bad habit of choosing guys who initially appear "nice" but whose combination of drink and abuse is unhealthy. For all his problems, and despite the dissolution of the marriage, Hawke's dad turns out to have been her wisest choice.)

This unusual idea of returning through the years to the same characters and their story is indeed a good one and makes the film special. But were it not for Linklater's skills as writer and director, this might have come off as mainly a clever stunt. It never is. Scene after scene bursts with life that turns into art, enabling us to empathize with all the characters in this often extended family. Take the one that occurs over a meal with mom and kids and their step-dad and his kids. Fraught with anger and a rising sense of foreboding, this is as fine a scene of its kind as I've ever experienced.

The movie beautifully captures the sense of parents constantly trying to serve and protect their children, while struggling to do what's good and necessary for themselves, as well. If only they knew a little better what that might be! From a technical aspect, because the movie was filmed as it went along, there is never a question of continuity problems nor of getting the "look" correct. Clothes, cars, news and events -- it is all as it was.

Selection -- what, finally, to show us out of this vast life of Mason -- is vital, too, and I think Linklater has chosen exceedingly well which moments were the important ones to capture. We experience all kinds of moods and we're there for the events, large and small, along the way -- some quite verbal, others quiet and visually on the mark. Together they bring us a picture of a boy growing into young manhood unlike anything we've yet seen.

Boyhood, from IFC Films, opens this Friday,. July 11, in New York City (IFC Center, Lincoln Plaza Cinema), Brooklyn (BAM Rose Cinema) and Los Angeles (Arclight, Hollywood, and The Landmark). In the weeks to come it'll be expanding to theaters throughout the entire country. Click here to see currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters

Note: Director Linklater & star Coltrane, will both appear 
in person at the IFC Center on Saturday, July 12, for Q&As 
following the 12:45, 1:45, 7:25 & 8:25 shows, 
with intros only at the 4:05 & 10:40 shows.  
(Earlier shows and appearances are evidently already sold out!)
Stars Arquette and Hawke will appear for a Q&A at the Hollywood Arclight 
on Saturday, July 12 at the 7:15 and 8:15 shows.

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