By Bill Arceneaux
I knew that Boyhood clocked in at a near three hours. I knew there was a specialty concept behind it, where the film was shot over 12 years with the same actors. I even knew that the movie opened with a Coldplay song – something that would normally make me shake my head.
I didn’t know how affecting and effective this film by Richard Linklater would be to me. I didn’t know that I would compare and even prefer this to Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (still great). And I was really in the dark on how little that use of Coldplay would bother me – reminded me of how Kevin Smith uses music.
Boyhood I would go so far as to call a new American classic. This might be better determined in hindsight, with many years of separation, but I and many others are calling it now. The subject matter of young boy growing into a young man, and the happenings of his family, are ripe for sappiness and over-sentimentality. There could’ve been speech after speech about life and the meaning of it all, multiple scenes of high drama, etc. Instead, it’s all pretty subdued. It unfolds in a very calm manner, not in a hurry at all, days turning into months turning into years. A scene happens, then another, then something different happens. No chapters or definitive arcs marking each act. The only strong connective tissue is the passage of time.
In what is the film’s climax, Mason (the young man at the center of the story) asks his father, “So, what’s the point?” Up until then, other than aging, he has stayed relatively the same. Sensitive to others, confident in himself, full of exploration. But those around him, like his divorced parents, have matured. Mason witnesses his mother going from dependant on others to becoming a college level teacher calling the shots, and his father from a nomadic slacker to being a straight-laced insurance agent. Mason doesn’t get a clear answer to his question, but it should be obvious.
Moments. The answer is moments. This one and the next. At least, that’s what I got out of watching 12 years of a boy’s development. Time itself and how we perceive and enjoy it. I write “perceive” because lessons don’t always come wrapped in bows. At one point, the mother takes her kids out of a new husband’s home after a domestic dispute. In the car, driving away, she says, “Don’t look back.” At first, this is an unremarkable line, something said to just move on. But I bet that Mason often thinks back on that, and in more ways than one. It’s amazing how something that means so little to one person can mean the world to someone else.
Few movies come out that actually grab what they’re reaching for. Boyhood is a masterpiece in its execution of concept, in its direction and in its scope. Thinking on it more, I now have that Coldplay song stuck in my head. Who knew?
Boyhood plays in Baton Rouge area theaters starting Friday, August 15th. For more from the author, follow him on twitter @billreviews.