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Rather than lament the dozens of films I was unable to see at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, I’m considering just how lucky I was to see Richard Linklater’s latest film, Boyhood.  One of the hottest tickets of the week, Boyhood is the simple story of a child growing into a man, and was filmed with the same principal cast over the last 12 years.  It caught me off guard  with the kind of sincere, emotionally cathartic experience I hoped for, at a time when I was afraid I wouldn’t have one at all this year.  Hands down my favorite film of the fest.

The Players:

Synopsis:

Boyhood is the story of Mason (Coltrane), a child growing up in Texas with his older sister (Linklater), and his divorced parents (Hawke & Arquette).  As we follow them through his adolescence, we’re given a complete picture of his development into a young adult.  The film employs an experimental use of time, providing an annual look into the state of the family as they all age, and provides an unprecedented portrayal of aging and maturing.

The Good:

Truth & Honesty:  This is one of Richard Linklater’s strong suits.  He seems an expert in never making the exact same movie twice (yes, including his Before triology).  Yet he manages to imbue each of his films with a continual search for truth and meaning in life, and in doing so acknowledges the kind of cosmic curiosity that resonates with his considerate audience, even with regard to not so cosmic subjects.  And since this film covers literally the most inquisitive time of a person’s life, it elicits a certain reflection that stays with you long after leaving the theater.

Use of Time:  It may seem as if the twelve year scope of the story is a simple gimmick, but it is actually the most transcendent feature of the film.  Its seamless transitions attention from being called to the device, and allow the emotions of each previous segment to drive the plot forward.  The year is never explicitly stated, simply hinted at by the soundtrack cues or passing reference to current events (Star Wars films, political elections).  The quiet effect of watching these people age, and go through the natural physical changes of a lifetime– Hawke’s transition from a hip, cool guy to a respectable adult, Arquette’s temporary weight gain, and especially the kids’ growth into adults–pulls you even deeper into the film, and results in a naturalism that really lets the characters and story take precedence.

The Bad:

Linklater’s Voice:  This is actually not a big complaint, because Richard Linklater’s singular voice is his trademark as an auteur.  However, it also can’t be denied that his is the voice coming out of each actor’s mouth.  When they’re espousing political or philosophical beliefs, it’s a bit more reminiscent of discussions from say Slacker, or Waking Life.  His aforementioned penchant for truth & honesty results in a sort of narrowness of the variety of its characters.  However, as far as casting performers who can deliver his work effectively, he couldn’t have done any better.  I’m often ambivalent on Ethan Hawke in particular, but when paired with Richard Linklater, he becomes a perfect vessel for the words with which Link provides him.

Overall:

Boyhood was the single most emotionally substantial experience I had at this year’s Sundance.  Going into the theater, I was more interested in the experimental nature of its decade long production.  But what I found was that this device was secondary to the unparalleled amount of personal growth, beyond the titular character, which we’re privileged to see unfold.

Rating: 8.5/10