Boyhood Review

Boyhood poster

“Everyone’s always saying seize the moment. I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around, like the moment seizes us.”

I don’t want to grant that little line of stoner philosophy dialogue towards the end of Boyhood more poignancy than it’s worth, but it could just be the key to comprehending this movie. Although, more likely a better key phrase comes slightly earlier – “I just thought there’d be more.”

This might sound like the beginning of a bad review. It’s not. I actually loved Boyhood. But make no mistake – this is a boring movie. Long, slow-paced, mundane, light on comedy, light on dramatic moments, lacking a single narrative throughline. And that’s exactly the point. It’s the best boring movie I’ve ever seen. 

If you’ve heard of this movie, you already know the hook. Richard Linklater (director of Dazed & Confused, one of my favorite movies, among many others) shot this film very gradually over a 12 year period with the same cast, so that we could witness the characters age in reality. In particular Mason, the titular “boy”, whom we follow from age 6 to 18. Though he’s effectively a passive observer in this story, and probably the character with the least impact on events, it’s all viewed through his eyes. Critics who commented that Mason is the least interesting character in the movie may have been missing the point. The story isn’t about him, regardless of what the poster might indicate. There is no story, really. He is just our conduit to experience the act of growing up. The movie IS and is ABOUT boyhood.

Even with the interminable 2:45 runtime, it’s still not enough time to actually capture the spectrum of experience that is childhood. Hell, the Harry Potter series had 7 films to unroll 7 years of youth and it still felt rushed (wizards and fates-of-mankind notwithstanding). So Boyhood settles for a series of glimpses. Moments, really. It doesn’t jump from milestone to milestone, like a greatest hits of youth, and it doesn’t try to milk all the drama out of every moment either. At one point, Mason gets harassed by some bullies in the school bathroom. Any other film would seize this opportunity to focus on the effects of bullying – to show how a kid reacts to being abused and ultimately overcomes the experience. But this film knows that real life doesn’t always feel that way. This moment was just a moment, and when it was over, it was over.

This is how the whole of Boyhood plays out. Moments seize the film for a few minutes and then it moves on. Friends and crushes and father figures come and go in sometimes fleeting passes. The film does a spectacular job of showing you just enough information to understand where the characters are as the years go by. It doesn’t feel the need to “reset” from scene to scene. You can gather that Mason’s slacker musician father has finally submitted to a “responsible adult” lifestyle just by looking at his wardrobe and dad mustache. Likewise, the soundtrack and pop cultural references throughout enable you to pin down exactly what year it is.


I don’t think any of this would work nearly as well without the central gimmick (if you want to call it that) of the 12 year long production. If they had simply cast a series of progressively older children and artificially aged the adults to tell this same story, something essential would have been lost. Any sense of artificiality introduced by shortcuts would undercut how genuine everything feels in this film.

Pity the poor sap tasked with writing a plot synopsis for Boyhood. Extracting the emotional experience and leaving only the stark verbal description of events leaves you with almost nothing to hang your hat on. Some viewers may not be able to get past that. They might feel as Patricia Arquette’s “mom” character puts it: “I just thought there’d be more.” When I think back on my own childhood and the passage of time keeps accelerating more and more, I’m inclined to think that way too. That hits home for me on a pretty deep level.

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