When viewing a film such as this it’s hard to describe it to people who haven’t seen it. “Boyhood” is a coming of age story but unlike any we’ve seen in past. No it’s not like “Stand By Me” or the recent “Spectacular Now”. It doesn’t feature a plot of the boy trying to get the girl, or a group of friends going off on an adventure. When describing a film such as this and what this is truly about there is only one word to describe it, time. Time is everything this movie is. The film is nearly 3 hours long, it took 12 years to make and not a whole lot happens in the movie on the surface but underneath the surface plot is the passage of time and the passage of time reveals much more about how much actually does happen in the film than anything to describe it.
“Boyhood” is a passion project from writer/director Richard Linklater of “Before Sunrise Trilogy” and “Dazed and Confused” fame. For 12 years, Linklater and his crew of actors and production team would meet up to film a little bit at a time for the project, keeping all of the same actors, (both kids and adults) as we journey along with a little boy named Mason as he goes through life with his family into the cusp of adulthood with all of the trials and joys that come along with growing up.
Like I’ve said before there isn’t a whole lot that happens in terms of plot. We see Mason grow up from a small little boy all the way through into his first year of college. For many this will this as problematic. In English and writing classes you’re taught that a story has a very specific structure, no matter how complex of a story it is you can always break it down. This structure usually follows an order such as this, exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. For the most part, many stories can be broken down into at the very least a similar structure as the one I just listed. This movie, this story doesn’t have that at all. It abandons normal storytelling conventions and leaves them at the door, instead tries to tell a conventional story basis in an unconventional way.
Time has a funny way of doing things to us. When you rip away the basic coverings of the story, what you get below is a whole lot more than what it appears. An old story convention is “show don’t tell” and when you’re coming out the theater you think “wow not a lot happened in that film” yet when you stop to think about it, Linklater showed us a lot more than we realized. We see the development of all of the characters. Not only does Mason grow and change but so do the adults and we can see how life choices affects someone later in life, some change for the best, some for the worst, and some need a little more time before they grow up. The characters are rich and three dimensional. Instead of using stereotypes or clichés the characters feel real and honest as oppose to someone who is fake and written on a printed paper. All of the actors used in the film are all breathtakingly good. The time it took to film never dulled their performances in the least bit in fact only enhanced them.
Most filmgoers won’t be use to a story told such as this. Richard Linklater uses the frames on his camera and the ink of his pen (or the keys on his computer, not sure how many people still write their stories on pen and paper) to capture real life, in a manner more real and honest than any reality show can give us. On some manner or level you can connect to this story because this is life, this is childhood. Although you may not have the exact same childhood as Mason does, but you can still connect to the very emotions that the character of Mason is given. I know many of these things I did as a kid and growing up. Split screening “Halo 2” with friends (trust me I did that ALOT, even if I was a little older), doing stuff that your parents wouldn’t be proud of, being unsure about your future and college, to even the relationship you have with siblings and parents. On some level you can connect with the film, because we all through this kind of stuff.
Richard Linklater’s directing is impeccable. He never resorts to saying “5 years later” or telling us the year they are in, instead he just lets the time jump before our very eyes. We as the viewer are given subtle hints to time change, whether it’d be by music choice or character’s appearance or even major pop culture things going on at the time. Linklater will show Mason and his sister and father going to a Houston Astros game and see Roger Clemons pitching. If you’re a baseball fan you’ll have a general idea on what year that takes place. There is clips of the invasion of Iraqi, and the 2008 election, we always get a general sense of where we are even with the frequent time jumps. Normally the big time jumps could be seen as a bad thing but the way Linklater edits them so smoothly together it works.
In life we never see the time jump and it’s only when we look back on our journey that we realize how far we have come in our lives. Not necessarily achievements wise but rather as an individuals. On the surface this is just about a boy growing up and all of the events that happen to him in his life. Yet underneath it, it tells so much more. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film to capture what it means to grow up as realistically as this one does. One may see at first, the 12 year filmmaking as a short of gimmick but the actual product proves to be much more than that. It breaks story conventions, features great acting, wonderful story telling, and clever direction from writer/director Richard Linklater. “Boyhood” is a testament to filmmaking as an art form and I was simply engrossed by this film. It made me reflect on my own childhood and even if you’re a viewer that’s childhood is far behind you, you can still get something out of this, especially if you’re a parent. “Boyhood” is a film that deserves more attention than it already has.