Belated Film Review: All the Praise for Richard Linklater and ‘Boyhood’

by Kolby Solinsky

White Cover Magazine

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If the majority of the headline above isn’t already a giveaway, I’ll tell you straight-up: I’m often late to things.

Not lazy. Not even really late to appointments. Just late to the easiest things to be on time for – like hashtags, hairstyles, and movies. So while much of Sunday’s Oscar audience was weighing which of the finalists they liked the best, I was sitting there cramming three hours of Boyhood in, pre-show. I had only seen Grand Budapest Hotel before that, because it was on a plane I sat on a few months ago. And it’s on Netflix.

So why Boyhood?

Quite simple, I chose it to be the one I saw while I still had time because it was by-far the most original of anything in the field, and the most original in some time.

With all respect to historical treatments like Argo or 12 Years a Slave or Selma (which I haven’t seen) or to biopics like we had during that era where every movie, it seemed, was Ray or Walk the Line or Capote… or to meta looks inside the filmmaker’s soul like Birdman (which I haven’t seen, yet) or The Artist. With all due respect to any of those, because they’re fantastic but, they’re not unique. Not in the sense of, ‘Oh, I’ve never seen this before.’

Every year we have a gritty, indie-ish film. Even when there’s big studio money behind a film, some films just seem indies. And every year we have the History Channel-meets-the-theatre, like Selma or The King’s Speech. Some of these films tackle important issues, divisive ones that still very much tug at the fabric and seams of America.

But Boyhood was truly something spectacular. Something you can’t categorize or box-up. And the fact Richard Linklater pulled it off, it was sort of remarkable and humbling to watch.

The film isn’t just some honest, 160-minute look at a young man’s coming-of-age. That’s what it’s marketed as, of course, and it’s the hook. Linklater filmed this baby over 12 years and with a cast he couldn’t hope to control or make-up or even keep alive – a decade’s a long time, which becomes pretty clear when you start reliving every moment you sort-of remember from 2002 until now.

(I was never as young as Ellar Coltrane was in those early scenes, but it’s charmingly creepy and certainly indulgent to re-watch the past as if it was the present. I always feel like, even at a still-young 27, everyone younger than me somehow knows more about computers, more about social media, or more about cheap phrases and MTV than I do. When the fact is, everyone lives in the time they live in, and they carry their self-consciousness and insecurities, and their lives rotate around the middle. Coltrane’s character Mason never gets to the middle – his parents start and end the movies in their middles – but it’s beautiful to both know where he’s coming from and exactly where he’s going, even while you feel he’s one step ahead of you.)

But no, the best part of Boyhood isn’t its process or even the fact that Linklater somehow pulls it off.

The best part of Boyhood is that it turns the mundane, familiar moments we’ve all had into action sequences – little nods to the first time two boys laughed and giggled while pointing at the breasts of Sears catalogue models, or to when their Dad decided to try out a moustache, or to their first ball game, or to pretending to care about which team won their first ball game, all that mashed together is exciting and funny and complete.

Boyhood is without a doubt Linklater’s defining film, to this point. It’s the only one to get a Best Picture nomination, after all. But just like The Departed isn’t Scorsese’s finest, even though it’s the only one that won the Italian maestro his inevitable Oscar, Boyhood may not be Linklater’s best film.

His career’s work is a quilt of related reels. From the last day of high school for freshmen, seniors, and parents in Dazed and Confused to the charming wanderings through Europe in Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight, and finally to Boyhood, Linklater has done terrific things with movie ideas that would be hard to pitch.

After all, how many films have there been about high school? Or about two lovers trying to find and then re-find their passion for each other? Or about families and broken homes and kids who are into photography?

Consider it tremendous that Linklater’s films have been largely about nothing and said so much – the fact they’ve stood above the thousands based on the same things, that’s truly admirable. And unique.

Boyhood is certainly Linklater’s fullest film, like Pulp Fiction is Tarantino’s. That shouldn’t take anything away from Reservoir Dogs or Django Unchained or Kill Bill. It just means, if you were going to tell someone who’d never seen a Tarantino film which one to watch if they could only watch one, you’d say Pulp Fiction.

And Boyhood is like that. Which makes it all the more shocking Linklater didn’t at least win Best Director last night.

Truly great films have been passed over for Best Picture before, like Citizen Kane and Casablanca and Sunset Boulevard, even The Empire Strikes Back. But when you watch Boyhood, and you consider all Linklater had to do to not just complete the project but to make it basically perfect, you have to think his work on this film is the very reason there’s even a Best Director award to give out.

All due respect to Inarritu or Wes Anderson or the other guys, but they were just nominees this year. I could have come to that conclusion without seeing a single one of their films, and I don’t imagine I’ll change my mind once I do.

Because nobody’s knocked the Director category out of the park like Linklater did this year. Or should I say, for the past 12 years.