[Screen It]

"BOYHOOD"
(2014) (Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A boy must contend with various family issues, self doubts and philosophical thoughts while growing up from a 6-year-old into a college freshman.
PLOT:
Mason Jr. (ELLAR COLTRANE) is a 6-year-old boy growing up with his older sister, Samantha (LORELEI LINKLATER), and their single mom, Olivia (PATRICIA ARQUETTE). The latter has decided to move them to Houston, Texas in order to go back to school, all of which means they'll be closer to her mom as well as the kid's father, Mason Sr. (ETHAN HAWKE), who's been in Alaska and thus out of their lives for the past year and a half.

Olivia eventually ends up marrying her professor, Bill Wellbrock (MARCO PERELLA), thus blending their families together with the addition of his kids, Randy (ANDREW VILLARREAL) and Mindy (JAIME HOWARD). But he slowly turns out to be an abusive alcoholic and she removes the kids from the situation. At the same time, Mason Sr. rooms with musician Jimmy (CHARLIE SEXTON) and enjoys spending time with his kids every other weekend. Years pass and Olivia eventually takes up with Jim (BRAD HAWKINS), an Afghanistan/Iraq War veteran turned corrections officer, but he doesn't turn out any better.

Mason Jr. ends up meeting and marrying Annie (JENNI TOOLEY) with whom he has a child, while Mason Jr. ends up with a girlfriend, Sheena (ZOE GRAHAM), while taking photography classes with Mr. Turlington (TOM McTIGUE) and pondering his place in the world and what he's going to make of himself.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
Unlike most network TV shows that can crank out 30 to 60 minute episodes week in and week out, most movies take a much longer time to bring to onscreen fruition. First there's the writing of the screenplay, raising money to get it produced, the casting, the building of sets, the location shooting and so on. That's followed by the editing, scoring, assembly of promotional materials, press tours and screenings and finally the world premiere.

From start to finish can take years and sometimes decades to complete, especially if funding runs out or there are other unforeseen delays. For most such flicks, however, the actual shooting -- if there are no such delays -- usually doesn't take more than a few months to get the bulk of the footage on "film." They certainly don't take twelve years, but that's exactly the case with "Boyhood."

Granted, its 12-year shooting schedule was always the plan of writer/director Richard Linklater who's no stranger to telling a tale over a number of years via his "Before" trilogy ("Before Sunrise," "Before Sunset" and "Before Midnight"). Yet, while those films were done the traditional way of starting and finishing one before taking up the next, his latest was an ambitious and offbeat approach.

Perhaps inspired by the "Up" series of documentaries that have followed the lives of the same British kids (now adults) every seven years starting in 1964, Linklater decided not to employ the standard route of casting different kid performers and using aging makeup on the adults to show the progression of time. Instead, he used the same cast throughout, returning to them every few years to continue filming the story.

It was a risky endeavor, especially since any number of things could have derailed the project (such as the kids turning into teenagers not wanting to play along anymore, etc.), but it turns out to have been well worth the wait. While it's long -- clocking in at 166-some minutes -- and doesn't possess or work from the sort of screenplay and story structure most viewers are accustomed to experiencing, it's one of those offerings that grows on you the more you think about it long after walking out of the theater.

In essence, it's a slice of life look at growing up, as our protagonist (Ellar Coltrane) literally does that before our eyes, aging from six-year-old to eighteen alongside his slightly older sister (Lorelei Linklater - the filmmaker's real-life daughter), single mom (Patricia Arquette) and dad (Ethan Hawke) who's returned to be in their lives. While some viewers might complain that nothing really happens to connect each scene to the rest, that's both missing the point as well as the point itself. Everyone's lives are comprised of the same, a series of moments that don't necessarily have strong ties to those that immediately preceded or followed them, be that in terms of days, months or years. Yet, it's those very moments that make all of us who we are.

I similarly found it compelling on another level. In his book "The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind," theoretical physicist Michio Kaku explains that selective memory is a natural self-defense mechanism to protect the brain from being overloaded with memories of everything that ever happened to someone. I believe that's what the filmmaker is showing as well in terms of a selective memory based representation of a man (age unknown) looking back at significant moments of his childhood.

Some are traumatic (the alcoholic and abusive stepfather, being bullied in a school bathroom), some are eye-opening (checking out the photos in a lingerie catalogue) and some are simply fond recollections of a good time (attending a major league baseball game with dad). Proving the power of all of that, I'm getting goose bumps just writing this, probably stemming from the power of the pic hitting home in terms of bringing up my own memories of random times from my youth.

Performances are solid across the board, something not of concern regarding Hawke and Arquette, but clearly something that could have derailed regarding the kids (think of child stars who never successfully transitioned into older roles). Thankfully it doesn't, and it's something of a mesmerizing ride watching these kids grow up before our eyes. But it's the thematic material regarding who we come and why, along with the dredging up and tapping into our own memories of childhood that make "Boyhood" so powerful. It's one of the year's best and rates as an 8 out of 10.




Reviewed July 29, 2014 / Posted August 1, 2014


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