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Movie Review: 'Boyhood'

By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Yes, it's a cinematic experiment, one that director Richard Linklater started shooting in 2002. And it's got what might be seen as a self-important title. But don't let that put you off.

Boyhood is a remarkable piece of work and an entertaining coming-of-age drama at that as we watch a boy become a man while the world around him and all his loved ones change as well.

3½ stars
(3½ stars out of 4)

Movies might come more momentous than Boyhood, but few resemble life itself and unfold more naturally or convincingly. Full of casual intimacy and privileged moments, this is an ordinary story told in an extraordinary way.

Ethan Hawke plays father Mason Sr. and Patricia Arquette is Olivia, mother to Ellar Coltrane's son, Mason, in this Texas-set drama from eclectic auteur Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight, Waking Life, School of Rock, Me and Orson Welles, Bernie) that spans twelve years in the life of a youngster and his family.

But it's the unprecedented way Linklater made this film that makes it unique. The writer-director shot the film in sequence by gathering the cast for a few days once a year at regular intervals over a twelve-year period as they aged in real time. Over the course of the film, the cast and crew spent about the same amount of time working as they would have on a conventional, uninterrupted shoot. But this unusual schedule gave young Coltrane the opportunity to actually grow up before our eyes.

Rarely has the proverbial passage of time been captured and factored into an on-screen story this persuasively.

That means that Linklater could generally script the film and provide a narrative arc but that he would have to incorporate actual details from the real life and appearance of his youthful protagonist as it presented itself each year. That's a blend of fiction and nonfiction that we don't often see.

Mason -- whom we first meet as a seven-year-old and observe until he's 19 -- shuttles between his estranged parents once they divorce and mom and the kids move from a small town to Houston without dad, and she remarries twice again, problematically in each case.

It is through Mason's eyes that we see and judge the behavior of his parents, as his determined mom struggles to give them a better life and his caring, would-be-musician dad remains paternally involved in their lives from afar.

Lorelei Linklater, the director's real-life daughter, plays Samantha, Mason's older sister, completing the central family unit. Like just about everyone in the cast, she turns in a natural, unforced performance as the kids grow into young adults.

Oscar nominee Hawke has long since established his ease, presence, authenticity, and improvisational skills -– in Linklater's superb Before trilogy, if in nothing else -– but it's Patricia Arquette who turns in a career best in her wonderful rendering of a thrice-married mom/ college professor.

Linklater seems to go out of his way not to add arbitrary dramatic wrinkles to give the film additional surface import. He knows that what he's capturing is what "growing up" really means and he's intent on letting that and the nuclear-family characters reveal themselves organically.

As for the film's running time of 2¾ hours, it doesn't feel a minute too long because we're spending time with people we know.

Part of an uncrowded subgenre defined by the Before trilogy and director Michael Apted's Up documentaries, Linklater's latest is a quietly magical capturing of the intersection of real life and reel life, a deceptively simple snapshot of the human condition.

So we'll age 3½ stars out of 4. Boyhood is an unassuming, amusing, empathetic portrait of a family that stands in for all families – as authentic as movie characters can get and as familiar as those reflections we see in the everyday mirror.

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