Boyhood: Review – Sundance 2014

I’m tentative to even write about this movie. It’s like opening your Christmas present for you the night before Christmas. I really don’t want to spoil it. If we could sit around a campfire and discuss the inter-workings of Richard Linklater over a few beers and s’mores, that would be ideal. Alas, the canvas of a computer screen will have to do. Compared to Linklater’s colorful cinema experience, it doesn’t compare.

Right before Sundance started, they announced Boyhood would finally be premiering. I nearly screamed. I interviewed Ethan Hawke and Linklater a few months back for Before Midnight, and they definitely got my hopes up. Both agreed it was a huge feat, but that they couldn’t wait to share it. 12 years of production? Are you kidding? I’m in.

Tickets at Sundance were impossible to get. Last minute, a publicist got me in on the red carpet and one single ticket. I literally ran in the snow to make it on time. If you go to Sundance, you know this happens a lot. I was going to slip on ice and die all for the love of Linklater. Sheesh.

I was so impressed when Hawke and Linklater went down the press line and talked to everyone. It was considerate and clear they couldn’t wait to talk about what they had kept secret for so long. The theater was packed to the brim, and I locked in a seat right in the center. I decided to purposefully dehydrate myself so I wouldn’t have to leave in the middle of the more than two-hour film. It was worth it.

The film unfolds with such ease. The opening image of Mason as a wide-eyed child transitions seamlessly into his adolescent and then teenage years. As he grows, we learn that his Mom (Patricia Arquette) and Dad (Ethan Hawke) are divorced. Mason and his sister Samantha, played with natural charm by Linklater’s daughter Lorelei, try to deal with the separation. Dad is cool, an unemployed smoker-musician-boy-man, while Mom is the responsible one. She’s in school; he’s still trying to get it all together. To the backdrop Texas, both sweet tea and sour beer, the kids trek through other wannabe dads, artistic dreams, and the pains of growing up.

It’s difficult not to divulge. The film remains unpredictable, at the same time delivering moments that seem predictable because they’re so true. It’s central subject, Mason, is a vehicle for a journey we feel we’ve been on before, even if the twists and turns aren’t quite the same. The specificity in Linklater’s writing allows for a parallel audience freedom. We may not have had an arrowhead collection, but we sure collected something. Our father may not have been an alcoholic, but he was probably some element of destruction.  Photography may not be our escape, but something had to be in high school.

Although we peer into the world through Mason’s eyes, we’re allowed to see both the adult and child skew of things. Hawke and Arquette are masters of vulnerability that leave us wondering whose side we’re on. In the last moments of the film, I felt teary-eyed. There’s nothing sad about it, but I was unwilling to say goodbye. Linklater truly captures a character on screen. Our relationship with Mason is stronger than almost any I’ve experienced in cinema.

The fact that Linklater pulled this off is baffling. Assembling a team with this much dedication is any filmmakers dream. It seems that at the crux of such an experimental shoot is flexibility. Linklater allows the film to evolve along with its cast members. Instead of harnessing Mason’s journey, he allows it to mirror actor Ethan’s. Perhaps because Hawke, Arquette and Linklater are actually parents, they understand that power comes in listening to your child as opposed to controlling.