There seems to be a scale of how well movies can depict the passage of time with the characters we are following. We constantly see films that effectively (or ineffectively) make use of makeup and other effects to convey a certain age of a character, let alone simply using different actors, based on time jumps. Writer/director Richard Linklater has gone a different route. Rather than using traditional, physical tools to convey the lengthy period of time that BOYHOOD covers, he worked with the same actors for a 12-year period to deliver a unique and ambitious project. As a result, we see a story about family, change, growth and many other things that make up life from a personal perspective. It was a wonderful idea that has turned into my favorite film of 2014 and now it has arrived on Blu-ray.
I find the utilization of time as a filmmaking tool to be fascinating. Linklater is not the first filmmaker to attempt something like this, as Michael Apted’s UP series comes to mind. Even Linklater’s own ‘BEFORE’ trilogy features a check-in with characters over the course of a few decades. What makes BOYHOOD standout is the focus. It is similar to many of Linklater’s films, as we see what essentially boils down to a series of vignettes, some longer than others, each depicting a different year in the life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and the rest of his family. There are long takes that revolve around people having conversations and the significant dramatic moments are kept to a minimum, but that works in the way this film wants to tell a story about life, expanded upon via one person’s growth from a child and into an adult.
Along with Mason, we watch his whole family, including Patricia Arquette as his mother, Olivia, Ethan Hawke as Mason Sr. (who is separated from Olivia), and Lorelei Linklater (daughter of Richard) as Mason’s sister, Samantha. We see this entire family grow and progress into evolving lives, careers, and more, as the film moves through its 12-year period, starting in 2002 and ending in 2013. Some major changes occur, such as Olivia getting remarried, Samantha going off to college, and Mason Sr. figuring out his life, given that he became a father at such an early age, but it all rests on how Mason sees it. With that in mind, there is an amount of confidence that one has to have in a film that portrays an actor at a young age, with the intention to see him grow up and hopefully strengthen or at least deliver a convincing performance, as time moves forward.
In the role of Mason, Ellar Coltrane does in fact shine. There is a clear sense that he is trying more, as time moves forward, but I did find him to be an effective presence throughout this film. It helps that Richard Linklater has an assuredness in his direction, which often leads to subtle and low-key performances from his actors. Some of his films have broader performances and even Ethan Hawke, who has done his best work in Linklater films and has a great enough rapport with his friend and director to be more animated than many, is still able to deliver what feels essential for a film that treads on Terrence Malick territory in the ways it can present life as is. As opposed to Malick, though, the beauty is not necessarily contained to symbolism through stunning cinematography (big generalization yes, but bear with me).
BOYHOOD makes great use of the range of time it spans, as the film is, as Richard Linklater describes, “A period film shot in the present.” While the film is happy to have nice shots of urban and rural Texas settings, as characters converse, it is also very happy to show what was popular over the years. Seeing Mason and Samantha excited for a new HARRY POTTER book release or watching Mason use a circa-2004 Macintosh computer leaves an impact that suggests what is interesting to look back upon, given the mystery of the future, at the time these sections of the movie were being filmed. This is exemplified further in Linklater’s soundtrack choices, as you have a great compilation album made up of popular songs over the last decade, flowing well with what we are seeing on screen.
Maybe best of all is how very watchable BOYHOOD is. At 164 minutes, there is certainly a lot of film here, which makes sense, given how this is essentially the ‘epic’ of Richard Linklater’s filmography. Regardless, the film does not feel overlong or too short to really capture what the objective seems to be. The film is about life, sure, but it is funny, dramatic, relatable, and emotional at times. Watching Patricia Arquette (who is fantastic in this film) struggle with what choices to make as a single mother of two can be just as compelling as watching Ethan Hawke humorously struggle to explain ‘being safe’ to his daughter. All of these aspects make for a great film that has taken such a unique path to accomplish its goal. Granted, one may need to be in a prepared state of mine to simply watch life happen, but I have watched BOYHOOD a number of times at this point and I have not felt any less of an impact by it each time out.
I was enamored by this movie. BOYHOOD is not the kind of film you see every year. It is something different and I liked that. What I liked more was being able to spend time with these characters as I watched them age for real on the big screen. I can only hope that many people find what BOYHOOD has to offer, let alone see it with their families. Yes, it features some strong language, but this is hardly the kind of setback that should stop anyone from seeing a film that puts true life in front of them. There is an incredible piece of work here and it was made possible by a patient and confident director and actors equally confident in him and willing to commit to these roles for a lengthy period of time. Everyone involved had the chance to evolve for the better, as time went by, which only added to the strength of this feature. BOYHOOD is a true journey and it is one I was happy to go on and repeat.
While this was somewhat expected, given when BOYHOOD started filming, Richard Linklater shot BOYHOOD on 35mm throughout the entire production, making for a film that has a very consistent look, despite some evolution in style, as the filmmakers mature. Regardless of how the film was shot, though, this 1080p AVC encode is quite beautiful. Minor issues here and there early on do little to impact a film that looks absolutely fantastic throughout. Textures, skin tones, and black levels are very consistent throughout. The finer details seen throughout, whether it be indoors or outside are also quite remarkable. BOYHOOD is a fantastic film that looks (and, as you will see, sounds) fantastic.
With a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, BOYHOOD has all it needs to sound great. Especially given how important the music choices are in a film like this, it helps to have an impressive audio track that does not drop the ball when it comes to really balancing out the various channels and making for a fine listening experience. Dialogue is crisp and clear as well, which also makes plenty of sense, given that this is a talky film. Hearing the outdoor atmosphere is important as well, given the various locations, and the track does a fine job of mixing in the ambience of various scenes, as the film plays out. This is a fine audio track all around that is always clean and clear, even with some minor moments that reflect where filming took place.
Unfortunately we only get a couple features here, with my hope that an eventual Criterion Collection release will come our way. As it stands, there is a look at the project that is far too brief and a Q&A.
- The 12-Year Project – A making-of piece, of sorts, which features Linklater and cast, throughout the years, discussing what the project means to them. It is most interesting when seeing the kids at younger ages talking and interviewing the others, but you just know there is so much more footage than merely the 20 minutes that has been edited together here.
- Q&A with Richard Linklater and the Cast – Recorded in Los Angeles at the Cinefamily theater (I know this, because I was in live attendance of this recording), this is a nice Q&A recorded after a screening of the film, where Linklater and the cast talk about the film. Linklater and Ethan Hawke do a majority of the talking, but it is fun to hear from everyone involved.
- DVD Copy of the Film
- Digital HD Copy of the Film
BOYHOOD was my favorite film of the year, so even if this Blu-ray was not that great, I would still say go out and see it. As it stands, the audio/video presentation of the film is quite stellar, which is great and even the features, while minimal, have some good insight. With all of that in mind, go check out a fantastic film or at least watch something that took confidence and ambition to put together.