A peculiar thing about me is that where many of my friends have outgrown coming-of-age movies, I always have a soft spot for them, regardless of the presentation. Case in point: my favourite moments in cinematic history include Gordie staring down “Ace” Merrill in Stand By Me, Bobby Yeung falling in love with an older girl in the sequel to Yesteryou, Yesterme, Yesterday and Salvatore discovering his love of film for the first time in Cinema Paradiso.
However, my bias for coming-of-age movies notwithstanding, Boyhood is the best movie of 2014. I would go as far to claim that Boyhood is perhaps the best movie of the past 5 years. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that technically, a movie like Boyhood, which is shot over 12 years featuring the same cast (Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette), is very much a challenge to make. The boy in question, Ellar Coltrane, could have lost interest in acting or simply become a shitty actor over the course of 12 years. Cast members could have committed to other projects and simply phoned in their performances. Even if cast and crew remained relatively unchanged over the course of the 12 years, the cast would have problems keeping characters’ motivations consistent while demonstrating growth. Therefore, it is a testament to Linklater’s vision and the cast’s talents that the movie flow with such a confident ease that an uninformed viewer would have thought that the movie was shot over a year.
One of the great appeals of the movie is revisiting the past decade and reflecting upon our own halcyon memories. Each shot is littered with authentic artifacts of the recent past. Gamers would recognize the original PlayStation, Xbox and Wii as they grow up alongside Coltrane’s Mason while music fans would appreciate how the years are underscored with music from the likes of Coldplay, Wilco and the Black Keys. Meanwhile, key moments in history such as the invasion of Iraq and appointment of Obama as president are expertly and organically weaved into the storyline.
As the titular boy in the movie, Ellar Coltrane delivers a consummate performance that is beyond his years. The audience witnessed all the little moments in Mason’s life and instinctively understood how the various influences and decisions lead him to become the young adult he was by the end of the movie. Apart from the contained abuses of an alcoholic step-father, there are no particularly dramatic arcs in the 12 years of Mason’s life, yet the audience will likely be unconscious of the 3 hour running time of the movie.
What I like best about the movie is its many true to life vignettes. Like Patricia Arquette’s character in the movie, my mom has a tendency to move items of remembrance in the house, displaying them in prominence to remind me of the past while I would like to keep them in drawers and boxes, out of sight to the world. I like to think that my mom’s motivations are different from Arquette’s, but who knows, right?
On the other hand, Ethan Hawke’s evolution from cool dad who drives a GTO to boring but responsible dad who sold aforementioned GTO for a more family-friendly SUV is what I think will happen to us all eventually. As the saying goes, your parents were cool once, until they had you. And you know what, that’s alright too.