Boyhood is undeniably the culmination of Richard Linklater’s work. It took 12 years to make, and interestingly enough became one of the smallest films to ever be nominated for best picture. It should’ve beaten Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) which is ironically much more gimmicky than the 12-year “gimmick” of Boyhood. Linklater is currently at work for the next 20 years on an adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along—we shall see if he will live to complete that one, as he will be in his 80s when it’s set to be finished.
The most compelling aspect of Boyhood, and what I think will probably make it last the test of time, is the fact that it’s a good document of where America was in the early 20th century. Linklater has often joked you could easily have called Boyhood “Ordinary People” but that title was already taken. The film concerns 12 years of the life Mason Evans Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) and his family, with includes his mother, his father and his sister. The parents are divorced but are on amicable terms. They’re lower middle class, if not working class, people living in Texas mainly around Houston and later on in Austin, where Linklater lives. Each year is roughly 10 to 20 minutes of screen time, and when Mason first becomes visibly older it’s one of the great jumps in modern cinema, mainly because it’s so matter-of-fact. That’s typical of Linklater’s style.
Nothing hugely dramatic happens, but Boyhood is never dull, despite its two hours and 45 minute running time. The events are pretty much the standard stuff you’d expect for a kid in this era: going to a midnight release of one of the Harry Potter films, crushes, school stuff, visits with Dad, etc.
The parents are both played brilliantly by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette; Arquette won an Oscar for her performance. Hawke was easily sold on the film by Linklater, just due to the craziness of the idea and his long working relationship with Linklater, Arquette took a little longer to come around, but eventually she committed. Still, nobody signed contracts. Arquette has a major moment as the mom at the end when Mason heads off to college, which no doubt was what won her the Oscar. Her character is a fully rounded human in the film, with all the mistakes that humans make—for one, she ends up doing out with an abusive ex-vet who chastises Mason with some homophobic nonsense after he comes home with his nails painted blue.
Linklater has made films that I probably prefer over Boyhood, but for a filmmaker so obsessed with time and a humanist approach to his filmmaking, it feels like Linklater’s definitive statement on his themes. Ellar Coltrane’s Mason is ironically probably the weakest of the three main performances, but seeing him come off as a dorky, pretentious teenager in the later part of the film seems quite authentic. It will be interesting how this film plays in next 10 to 20 years. Probably the only serious issue you could have with the film, which got nearly universal acclaim and rightfully so, is that due to the geographical location of the film’s setting there probably should’ve been a little more interaction between the very white family and more Latino characters.
This is the worldwide 4K UHD debut for Boyhood, and only the second Linklater film released in the format: his 1993 classic Dazed & Confused was released by Criterion on the format back in February. Criterion also released Boyhood on Blu-Ray in 2016, but if you a fan of the film, Arrow’s extras are all exclusive to this release. The special features include a conversation with American poet and critic Dan Chiasson and his son Louis Chiasson about their mutual love for the film. Scout Tafoya supplies a brand-new video essay for the release. There are two lengthy interviews with Linklater: The first is by Rob Stone, author of Walk, Don’t Run: The Cinema of Richard Linklater, and it’s cut between one interview before the release of Boyhood and one a year later. The second interview is a more general career retrospective made around the time of the release of Boyhood at BFI. The film’s evocative trailer and a stills gallery finish off the extras on the disc. Naturally, Stone supplies new writing on the film, and critic Ben Sachs also contributes to the booklet.