When we say a movie has an epic scope, it’s easy to flash to the image of battling pirate ships or massive space worlds. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood has just such a scope but for no reason that could match any of the aforementioned.
Decades in the making, Boyhood is an ambitious film experiment dedicated to showing the passage of time in the most naturalistic way possible. Not only is there an excellent, if difficult idea at hand, the finished result is just excellent filmmaking.
Told over a 12-year stretch of time, the film follows young Mason Evans, Jr. from the first grade in 2002 all the way to finishing high school and heading to college and how the ups and downs of life with divorced parents shaped his upbringing.
It’s a big undertaking to have a story that actively takes place over 12 years; it’s a completely innovative one to eschew makeup and multiple actors in favor of filming the same actors for more than a decade. There’s a feeling of genuineness throughout Boyhood, much of it coming from us watching the same group of people over the years. Call it schmaltzy, but there’s a real warmth in watching this kid grow up and go through all the triumphs and pitfalls many of us go through during those formative years.
Then again, Linklater has a talent for conveying his stories as naturally as possible. The director leaves no question as to what place in time we’re watching thanks to some comprehensive pop culture nods, granted he didn’t need to rely on hindsight as they were happening (one scene even features a Harry Potter book premiere, reminding us all that people used to line up for hours at midnight for five pounds of paper.)
But much like the director’s Before series, the thing that drives home Boyhood‘s naturalism rests largely in conversation. Whether it be early discussions between Mason, his sister and their divorced father about politics, marriage and bowling or talks in Mason’s later years as a disillusioned, uncertain teenager, the heart of the film lies in the simple exchanges between characters that reveal just a little bit more about us as people. More often than not, it shows itself to be an introspective, beautiful heart indeed.
Now, it’s understandable that some people may hear of a film running almost three hours made up mostly of conversation and turn the other way. It’s not completely invalid either since the film takes a while to sink in in the beginning and is made up of segments rather than one pointed story throughout. As an extensive, intimate indie film, it goes without saying that not everyone will have the tolerance needed for Boyhood.
At the same time, that’s sort of Boyhood‘s charm. A film chronicling 12 years of life is probably going to be a bit lengthy and to even hit some iota of emotional truth the movie should be tender. The things that make the movie unappealing to some are what make it unique for most.
And that’s ok because at the end of the day, Boyhood is simply one of those rare films where you feel like you know more about life upon viewing. There will likely never be another film to match the remarkable technical achievement of Boyhood but at the same time there may never be another film that captures the emotions and questions of growing up as intimately and truthfully as this.