"Boyhood," a slow-paced panorama of a film, is worth seeing

Boyhood poster“Boyhood,” the new film written and directed by Richard Linklater, is a slow-paced, naturalistic panorama of a film. Critics across the nation are singing its praises. For example, the Chicago Tribune gave the movie four stars, its highest rating, and the New York Times called it “One of the most extraordinary movies of the 21st century.”
Well … I don’t know about all that. But it is a good movie, shot in a revolutionary way, and it is worth seeing.

The movie spans the young life of its central character, Mason, from the age of 5 to 18. It starts when he’s a young boy staring up into the sky, dressed in a striped t-shirt. It ends when he is a young man, just starting college, exploring women and the world.

Here’s the revolutionary part: don’t look for changes in the faces of the actors as the characters age, in the usual Hollywood way. (I did, initially.) Linklater filmed the actors — Ellar Coltrane, playing Mason; Lorelie Linklater, the director’s daughter, playing Mason’s sister; Patricia Arquette, playing Mason’s mother; Ethan Hawke, playing Mason’s father; and the rest of the cast — over 12 years, for 12 days each year. There are no cast changes as the characters age. The actors, and the characters, age and mature and change before our eyes.

In addition, Linklater has written a story that more or less mirrors what could happen to any boy growing up in America: the fighting with his sister, and then the laughing; the feeling of not fitting in, as he moves from school to school all over Texas; the school bullying; the awakening of interest in matters sexual; and then the awakening of interest in the world around him.

The script is not like a usual Hollywood script. It’s more like a real-world chronicle of the ups and downs of life, including a loving mother, an abusive stepfather, and friends who help Mason get through it all.

“It’s not aliens crashing into Earth,” said Nick Cuba, 21, a DePaul University film student and actorNicole & nick 8-8-14 in a brief talk after the Aug. 8 matinee screening at Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark St. “It’s not like ‘Transformers,'” Cuba, of southwest suburban Tinley Park, continued. “It’s just like what happens to all of us. It makes the ordinary more fantastic.”

Cuba’s friend and movie-going partner on Friday afternoon was Nicole Revis, 20, a children’s clothing store manager and college student also, who is studying Spanish.

When asked for her reaction to “Boyhood,” Revis, also of Tinley Park, said, “I really liked it. I liked the way there was really no climax, how they just observed his (Mason’s) life. There was not a specific plot line.”

Both Cuba and Revis remarked how they particularly liked the pop culture references in the film. (The story, set in Texas, spans the years from the Iraq War, in the early 2000s, to the present day.) “You could tell what year it was by the songs,” said Cuba. “The music was good,” he continued.

Since Cuba and Revis are almost the same age as that of the main character, Mason, at film’s end, the movie may hold special significance for them and all young twenty-somethings. As the film student Cuba remarked, “It’s like nostalgia for our age.”

Added Revis, “It brings back good memories. Childhood memories.”

Writer-director Linklater, 54, has been making movies since the mid-1980s. A Texas native, he reportedly decided to become a director while working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. His films have run the gamut from off-center, as with 1996’s “Suburbia,” to more-or-less standard Hollywood entertainment, as with 2003’s “School of Rock,” starring Jack Black. Linklater’s most recent film before “Boyhood” was last year’s “Before Midnight.”

Ellar ColtraneThe acting in “Boyhood” is mostly first-class, particularly among the seasoned players. However, the performance that really stood out for me was that of Ellar Coltrane, the now 19-year old actor who over 12 years or so captured the boyhood of the title, as the main character Mason. Throughout his performance, but especially as the character matures and is starting college, there doesn’t seem to be a false note in anything he’s doing. As Mason finishes and then graduates from high school, he questions everything, with just the right dose of sarcasm and suspicion. Coltrane doesn’t seem to be acting at all.

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