‘Boyhood’ is stunning film with epic scope

Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater and Ellar Coltrane star in "Boyhood."
August 17, 2014

In film, the passage of time is always a difficult process to convey. When it’s portrayed by different actors for different ages, we always look for differences between them. When it is enhanced either digitally or through makeup, it’s typically even more distracting. Any one of these scenarios can take an audience member right out of the world of the film. One need look no further than this summer’s “Jersey Boys” for an example of just how distracting a dime-store face-paint job can be.

Richard Linklater, one of the most ambitious directors working today (“Dazed and Confused,” Waking Life,” the “Before Sunrise” trilogy, “SubUrbia” - any one of which would be an apex on another director’s resume) takes a relatively simple concept and creates one of the most memorable moviegoing experiences of the year in “Boyhood.”

Forgoing traditional makeup and CGI enhancements to his leads to mark the passage of time, he instead has pieced together a dozen years of footage with the same cast and creates the cinematic equivalent to flipping through a family’s photo album and sharing in the memories and moments, big and small, that have marked their lives thus far.

For a few days each year, he would assemble his central cast of characters -Patricia Arquette as the mother, Ethan Hawke as the father, his daughter Lorelei Linklater (who was about 8 when the cameras first started rolling), and newcomer Ellar Coltrane (who starts here a 6), and film vignettes that would become “Boyhood.”

The result is an anti-Forrest Gump, in which the years are not marked by grand historical events (though the 2008 presidential election does play a small, comedic role), but rather tiny, seemingly inconsequential life moments: a camping trip, a visit to the bowling alley, a discussion about “Star Wars,” etc. And as small as they may be, they have long-lasting resonance and impact. Just as in life, the characters are all shaped by the events of their past.

This also leads the film in unexpected directions with its characters.

Those who we initially judge evolve before our eyes as we see both redemptive and destructive qualities begin to emerge. Others flitter into their lives, only to vanish in the following scene, never to be seen again. And despite the omnipotence of Facebook, who hasn’t had that connection that was so important at that point in time, only to have it vanish in the following years?

All involved are exceptionally comfortable in their character’s skin, which has to be quite an accomplishment considering they only revisited them a couple times each year - all while participating in other projects.

I am reluctant to go all hyperbolic just yet with "Boyhood." Like the characters in it, only the passage of time will reveal its importance in the years ahead. For now, the film stands as a stunning little slice of life with an epic scope. And it stands as one of the best, most innovative films of the year and one that few directors could string together as fluidly as Linklater does.