Nostalgia lies at the heart of Richard Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-making “Boyhood,” a coming-of-age tale that explores the life of Mason, played by (sort of) newcomer Ellar Coltrane. What separates “Boyhood” from other coming-of-age films is the fact that Linklater filmed it over the course of 12 years. So, when Mason is five at the beginning of the film and then 18 at the end, we stick with the same actors over the course of the nearly 3-hour-long film.
But does the originality end there? Not necessarily, but critics have raved about the film’s creativity, saying it’s like nothing that’s ever been done before. To an extent, that’s true. Linklater’s 12-year endeavor is impressive and there’s a true sense of nostalgia like nothing before in a film. But that’s the concept. Take away that concept, and what’s left is a film with a jumpy plot (not entirely its fault given its premise) and flat characterization, primarily when it comes to Mason, who becomes increasingly less likable as the film progresses.
Mason’s early years capture a vivid sense of youth. It’s fun and energetic. His later years, however, capture a rather disorienting sense of teen angst. Not uncommon in a coming-of-age film, but what makes it so disorienting in this case is that the film is so aware of its own intentions. Mason begins questioning life and its purposes. It feels as if Mason becomes less of a character and more of a human philosophy essay.
The film nails a lot of the moments it should nail. More so, it doesn’t focus on the “big” moments one would think it would. Mason losing his virginity? Nope, it’s all about the relationship itself, the simpler moments. In the end, “Boyhood” isn’t about the “big” moments. Despite its shortcomings, it must be admired for that. It’s rare that a film can be so beautiful in its rendition of the smaller things in life.
With that in mind, despite its jumpy plot, the film is admirable in its attempts to stray away from a more typical plotline. Given the way it was made, it couldn’t really afford to be traditionally structured anyway, so that can be forgiven. By “straying away” the film doesn’t exactly tie up loose ends (what exactly does happen to all of Mason’s mother’s ex-husbands) nor does it shy towards the expected. Spoiler: there’s no getting back together for Mason’s parents, played with tons of heart by Ethan Hawke (“The Purge”) and Patricia Arquette (“Boardwalk Empire”).
In the end, “Boyhood” is a nostalgic trip and while it has its shortcomings, it is a well-made, well-intentioned, often beautiful film.