Well, folks, we’re back in awards season territory, my favorite time of the year for watching films. Oscar nominations were announced a couple weeks back, and, right now, the only two Best Picture nominees that are out on DVD are The Grand Budapest Hotel and Boyhood, coincidentally the two winners of the Best Motion Picture categories at the Golden Globes. Luckily, if you’re looking to start making your way through the nominees, Boyhood is a great place to begin; it’s a beautiful, one-of-a-kind piece of filmmaking that simply oozes life itself.
You probably know the premise of the film at this point: director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, School of Rock) shot the film over a twelve-year period, using the same actors and capturing their growth in real time. The final product tells the story of young Mason (Ellar Coltrane) growing up and experiencing all the joys and tribulations of boyhood.
It’s a remarkably high-concept idea for a film, one that really hasn’t been attempted before. Linklater has previously experimented with the passing of time as a plot device with his Before Sunrise films, but in Boyhood, the passing of time is the plot. Don’t be mistaken, this is by no means a plot-driven film. It’s unabashedly realistic; lessons are learned, conflicts occur and characters come and go, but all of these happenings are simple moments in time, not thematic plot arcs. The film flashes the middle finger to dramatic narrative structure and instead just lives.
As such, Boyhood might feel “pointless” to some viewers who like films that clearly wrap things up, but being pointless is kind of the point here. Think back on your childhood, age five to age 18. There is no story arc. There is no overarching theme. There is only a collection of snapshots, dots on a timeline, some larger than others. Yes, there are long stretches of mundanity, a bunch of those snapshots that would not be showcased in the Louvre exhibit on your life. But in Boyhood, Linklater argues there is beauty in those snapshots, and over the course of the film’s 165-minute running time, you begin to agree with him.
Even if you don’t, there is a lot to love about Boyhood. First is the acting on display. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette are absolutely pitch-perfect as Mason’s divorced parents; Hawke’s struggle to remain relevant without full-time custody of his kids and Arquette’s battles with less-than-perfect new husbands feel completely real. Their characters are people you know in real life, perhaps people you’re related to. Also, a secondary source of entertainment for people of college-age is how nostalgic Boyhood feels, with Mason’s timeline more-or-less mirroring our own. It should result in some chuckles and warm feelings as you witness an event or a pop-culture reference that reminds you of the quote-unquote good ol’ days.
In the end, I loved the hell out of Boyhood, even more than the other two Best Picture nominees I’ve seen so far (and I really liked The Imitation Game). There is a tendency of award-winner contenders to feel very “Oscar bait-y” and insincere, but Boyhood does not feel that way at all. It’s vibrant and beautiful and, most of all, alive. After finishing the film, I got a strong feeling of “what-now,” the same way you feel when you wrap up a good book and then have to slowly readjust to the real world. It is quite epic for a film in which not much happens, and it really does feel different than anything you’ve watched before, watching a family grow before your very eyes. Time is a fascinating concept and Boyhood is a fascinating look at it. If this was to win Best Picture next month, I would be more than happy with that.
Zach Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.