Cinema Siren says: It’s not just a slice of life, it’s the whole pie.
If you Sirenauts haven’t heard about the latest cinematic darling to critics the world over, allow Cinema Siren to introduce you to Boyhood, which with over one hundred reviews on Rotten Tomatoes is still at 99%. Some movies have buzz so loud it is impossible for other critics to avoid before their screening, but does it live up to the hype?
Writer/Director Richard Linklater’s story of a boy growing into manhood is an experiment in filmmaking wherein he started filming in 2002 and continued adding bits for the next 12 years with the same cast. This attempt to gain continuity from the audience watching the same actors as they age throughout the film is not only successful, it’s groundbreaking.
Why? This movie, which stars Ellar Coltrane as Mason, and Lorelei Linklater, (the director’s daughter) as his sister Samantha, is grounded in blending both the ‘Coming of Age’ and ‘Slice of Life’ genres of film. The director shot scenes both dramatic and seemingly trivial, carving together the personal histories of the children as they navigate through childhood. Frequent Linklater collaborator Ethan Hawke plays their father and Patricia Arquette plays their mother, a couple who divorced before the film began. Their relationships with each other, new partners, and their children, is an essential part of building Mason and Samantha’s personal dynamics layer by layer, scene by scene.
Using the same actors as they grow up allows the audience to develop an intense connection with the characters and their journeys through the complications, the joys and sorrows that are a part of family life, and of learning about the world and their place in it. This is true for Mason, who is the story’s center, but also for all the supporting characters, whatever their age. There is also an authenticity impossible to create any other way, because we see Mason grow from a cute 8 year old, into an awkward and confused teen, and further into a questioning yet determined young adult.
Perhaps some of you share my loathing of Slice of Life movies, which tend to focus on the moment rather than the moment as a part of a larger narrative. I like plot to propel my movies, not experience. Garden State, Napoleon Dynamite, and Lost In Translation are all great films in their way, and I enjoyed them, but as a critic I always have to separate myself from my distain when I watch them and all movies of that genre, imagining what others who like more meandering stories without a point might think of them. Here is where Boyhood is different. Because we as the audience are watching the same characters go through time, even though we are just watching a series of scenes from their lives, we become fascinated because we are seeing them actually move through time. In that movement, there is a compelling visual story that gives depth and truth to the experience for the filmgoer that transcends most other aspects of the cinematic experience, and makes it incredibly powerful.
That’s not to say there isn’t a lyricism and truth to the script. Relationships are begun and go south or blossom. Mistakes are made, weaknesses are discovered, lessons are learned. This isn’t just Slice of Life, it’s the whole pie.
Boyhood is one movie that, even for those who prefer their films with iron clad story, has poignancy and importance. It is a fearless experiment by one of the most groundbreaking directors of our time, and this time the project worked. It is a beautiful piece of filmmaking, and will be seen in future as a classic, and one of the definitive examples of the Coming of Age genre.
4 1/2 out of 5 stars