Aug 3, 2014

The best film of the year so far.


Grade: A

Director: Richard Linklater (Before Midnight)

Screenplay: Linklater

Cast: Ellar Coltrane (Fast Food Nation), Patricia Arquette (Flirting with Disaster)

Rating: R

Runtime: 165 min.

by John DeSando

“We’re all just winging it.” Dad (Ethan Hawke)

Boyhood is the shortest long movie I have seen in years and one of the best, if not the best of this year. As if director Richard Linklater were imitating life by having the film’s length speed by, an experience not unknown to those of us who have traveled for an all too brief time through this fleeting maze called life. The film uses the same major actors for 12 years, chronicling the passage of Mason (played throughout the dozen years by Ellar Coltrane) from his childhood to the beginning of college.

It’s not just the uniqueness of the long-term casting that makes this an epic of life, a more mundane treatment than Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life; it’s also the sweet cadence, never hurried, that includes no shocking conflicts, no weird surprises, and yet keeps the audience committed to characters and events as they assess the management of their own lives and families. Boyhood is epic in the sense of longevity and universality, not in the heroic sense because no one here approaches heroic status. But humanity they have in a most realistic way.

As Mason is building his life, writer/director Linklater peppers the script with wisdom from plain people like his dad (Hawke), who at one point counsels him not to long for the buffers in bowling because life doesn’t provide buffers. In the opening quote of this essay, Dad exclaims what the film is surely about: We try our best, but mostly don’t have a plan, learning on the job, so to speak.

A sign in a classroom exclaims, “You are responsible for your own actions.”  Such a non-existential-seeming a film as Boyhood turns out to be a tome on how fortunate we are to get through this life with little training but ultimate responsibility.

"I was somebody's daughter, and then I was somebody's f______ mother.”Mom (Patricia Arquette) reflects on the vicissitudes of trying to craft an individual life in the midst of the world’s expectations for what we should do. Her choices of men have been flawed, and she is not as beautiful as she once was, but she keeps trudging on happy for life giving her children who are turning out well despite the men in their lives.

After the not quite three hours of  unremarkable  but fascinating episodes of kids growing up and adults aging, one thing is for sure--Andrew Marvell’s Renaissance observation remains true: “But at my back I always hear/Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.”

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at