Boyhood successfully balances character story lines in epic film

By Preman Koshar, Contributing Writer ||

Boyhood is an odyssey, not as grand in scale as Homer’s epic but much more plausible and heartfelt. The film, directed by Richard Linklater, was shot over 12 years, thus allowing us to see every character age, change, and grow dramatically over the course of 165 minutes.

Boyhood tells the story of the childhood of Mason Evans, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), who is six years old when the film begins. His family consists of his annoying but loving sister (Lorelei Linklater), his ever-struggling mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), and his father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) — one of those deadbeat dads that’s a lot of fun and treats his kids so well when he’s with them that they can almost forgive him for not being around — almost. Oh, and don’t forget the various men Olivia dates — and even marries — that always seem to leave the family worse off than it was before.

There are a lot of characters in Boyhood, but, as in any great epic, they are all balanced perfectly; no character is neglected or overstated. The film follows Mason, Jr.’s life from age six to 18, with each year represented by several snapshots of Mason and his family’s life. These can be anything from Mason bowling with his father to Olivia starting yet another doomed relationship with an alcoholic to Mason’s very first kiss. At first these moments seem a bit unnecessary, pointless, and a touch repetitive, but this turns out not to be the case. As each moment passes, it becomes clear that each one is crucial and expertly timed. Each scene reveals more about the characters, adds to their personality, and shows their development. I don’t think I’ve ever known more about a set of characters than I did at the end of Boyhood. Linklater successfully produced a set of characters that feel truly alive.

The real magic in this film, however, is not from any one particular aspect. While Boyhood’s score is well done and moves fluidly as the film’s mood progresses and matures (much like Mason himself), it is not astounding by any means. The same could be said for the acting — high quality, to be sure, but not masterful.

The cinematography is pleasant, but Linklater is no Sorrentino, and I’m not sure stunning cinematography would add a lot to a movie like this. This is a film about the inherent beauty of life; there’s no need to glamorize it, to make it more than it is. And the plot and the dialogue are both simple and straight-to-the-point. Nothing spectacular. Nothing extravagant. Nothing too surprising. They’re realistic. And it’s this realism that makes Boyhood great.

In this era where superheroes, dystopia, and vampires rule the box office, it’s refreshing to see some true realism emerge. Sometimes it’s wonderful to just see life as it is, with no alterations or plot twists, no lasers or explosions, and to be reminded that vampires and superheroes aren’t necessary to have an amazing life. Mason’s childhood is both deeply sad and profoundly beautiful — he, like everyone, experiences his fair share of both. That’s what’s makes Boyhood a masterpiece: Mason’s experiences mirror those that everyone goes through growing up. It seems not only conceivable but likely that there are many people out there who have had a childhood much like Mason’s. Mason, or someone a lot like him, probably does, in some form, exist. While I’d love for an Andy Dufresne or a Forrest Gump or a Keyser Soze to exist, they probably don’t, and it’s hard to believe that they or any of the events or characters in their respective movies did either.

Boyhood is a masterfully captured reflection of the real world, with all its imperfections, and I’d rather watch Mason grow than Captain America fight any day.

First-year Preman Koshar is a contributing writer. His email is pkoshar@fandm.edu.

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