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Boyhood (Blu-ray Review)

20 Jan, 2015 By: John Latchem

Box Office $24.63 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use.
Stars Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke.

Director Richard Linklater’s Boyhood will be remembered more as an audacious cinematic experiment than for its narrative qualities.

Linklater famously shot the film over a 12-year time span, filming his actors a few days each year to chart the evolution of a family. At the center is actor Ellar Coltrane, first cast to play Mason when he was 7 years old and tracked as he drifts through school and eventually goes off to college. The story also captures the changes in Mason’s whole family, as he and his sister (played by Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter) are raised by their single mother (Patricia Arquette, an Oscar favorite for her supporting performance), with occasional visits from their father (Ethan Hawke).

There’s nothing flashy in Linklater’s approach. Each segment offers a snapshot of this family at a particular place and time. Mom keeps moving the family all around Texas in search of a better life, constantly attaching herself to a series of alcoholic companions. Dad still has some growing up to do, but eventually starts to figure it out. As Arquette is prone to point out several times in the extras, this is a film about those moments that populate a life in between the landmark events.

There are no obvious cuts to call attention to the time shifts, just characters growing, hairstyles changing and relationships evolving. The actors aren’t trying to stand out so much as give honest, naturalistic performances, and they succeed marvelously in crafting a lyrical film that anyone can relate to.

The only drawback to this approach is that the film sets up story threads or situations that fade away as the years go by, which to the film’s credit mirrors how things work in real life sometimes. But it also misses an opportunity to reflect on how things have changed over the years and to give the film a clearer narrative arc.

For example, some of the earlier scenes, obviously filmed around 2005, offer the kids referencing Star Wars: Episode III, which picks up later when the father asks his son if he thinks they’ll ever make another “Star Wars” movie, a line that was supposedly ad-libbed. Then “Star Wars” is never mentioned again, leaving no chance for the characters to react to the news Episode VII is on the way.

Interestingly, the film was saddled with the title Boyhood, which was one of the working titles, as a result of circumstance. Linklater admits that, since the film is looking at the whole family, Boyhood isn’t that precise a title. He wanted to give it the broader title of 12 Years, but had to settle on Boyhood to avoid confusion with 12 Years a Slave, which had just come out as Linklater was wrapping up this one.

The Blu-ray is otherwise sparse on extras, with just a 20-minute featurette about the making of the film and an hourlong Q&A with Linklater and the cast filmed at a theatrical screening in 2014. The Q&A consists primarily of everyone passing around praise for each other, but the featurette is interesting mostly for the interviews of everyone’s younger selves wondering how the project will turn out.

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