As a massive fan of Richard Linklater and someone who has been anticipating this film for months, I made the drive up to Austin this past weekend to view it as soon as I could. Waking up early on a Saturday for a 10:25 a.m. showing in a different city, I regret none of it.
It's been sweeping festivals and breaking high score records on every critical consensus website, but it isn't another one of those movies that critics say that you must see but end up not enjoying. It's one that you should see and will enjoy.
Positive raving and innovative filmmaking aside, this film exists on a deeply personal level and speaks to all people through its spot-on depictions of the bores and small landmarks of life. The pure scope of the movie is a testament to Linklater's patience and continuing careful eye for making the quietness and unassuming parts of daily life into a beautiful story.
It's the small things strung together that give the film its power: the asshole teacher preaching about work ethic, Mason's first beer with older friends, his adolescent aversion to family parties and his crippling uncertainty about the future. People come through, some stay and most don't. Boyhood tells you that growing up sucks without ever hinting at such a message. It shows the sweet and the sour and asks you to examine your own childhood and trajectory as a person, while showing you how everything may not be so bad in context.
Although Mason is the obvious center point of the story, the film focuses on interactions that define those around them rather than those that singularly affect him. Mason goes from pudgy to lanky and learns all the lessons in between, while his father evolves from jobless slacker to family man, and his mother goes from husband to husband until she realizes her independence and need for simplicity.
Seamlessly transitioning between ages, Mason will run down the stairs and look noticeably older, then go through a few memorable scenes and emerge as even more grown up later on. And the character of Mason isn't some watered-down amalgamation of common childhood experiences. He is the breathing embodiment of growing up, with ups and downs that either exactly match or relate to something we've all gone through. No memory is a complete miss.
My almost exact similarities to the character (same age, single mom upbringing, divorced dad living in Houston, experiences with step-parents, familiarity with all the filming locations, etc.) aside, Boyhood reaches everyone. Linklater's uncanny eye for the details and his use of cultural timepieces like the GameBoy and Harry Potter matched with similarly timely music choices make the film all the more applicable to teenagers of my generation and the parents who raised them. But Boyhood isn't so narrow in its connections with audiences. Mothers of all ages will weep along as Mason moves out, sisters young and old will sympathize with the annoying car rides and seeing your little sibling at a party, dads will reminisce about hiking and girl advice, and so on.
In the 12 years of filming, one might expect character lapses, quality bumps or noticeable shifts in tone. But the use of the same family unit throughout the filmmaking process allows for the cast to pick up their struggles and narratives from where they were left, to resume their growth in a perfectly honest way that parallels their own aging as humans. Because the characters are left room to breathe and portray themselves in an unguarded way, the movie feels like a documentary without even aiming to do so.
The film is so beautiful not only because the characters all come full-circle, but because the distinctions in character development are so visible in the three-hour length of the movie. You see the contrast between Mason's dependence on his mother for everything as a child and his independence in college, just as he reaches an age not too younger than his teenage mother was at the beginning of the film. He marvels at nature in the opening scene as a six-year-old boy waiting for a ride, and he marvels at nature in the last scene as an 18-year-old boy exploring with his friends and starting to make his way in the world.
As a bonus for Texans, the filming locations are all familiar enough to serve as comparison points for our own experiences there. Sites in San Marcos, Big Bend, Austin, Alpine, Pedernales, Houston and more will kindle a particular fondness among us for their connection to our own childhoods.
It's the ultimate coming of age film, an instant classic, the best movie you'll see this year. It's Linklater's better narrative answer to Dazed and Confused, and what will ultimately be a nostalgia film for the children of the adults who reminisced along to that 1993 film. And for Texans and teenage boys, it will only become more personal and touching as time goes by.