‘Boyhood’ Review

Published 6 months ago by , Updated October 7th, 2014 at 1:10 am,

Boyhood Movie 2014 Ellar Coltrane Boyhood Review

Richard Linklater’s ambitious project comes with a few hurdles that might put-off casual moviegoers who were expecting a straightforward coming-of-age tale.

Boyhood follows the life of Mason, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) from age six to eighteen. When his parents, Mason, Sr. (Ethan Hawke) and Olivia (Patricia Arquette) divorce, Mason, Jr. and his eight-year-old sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), are up-rooted from their hometown, moved across Texas, and enrolled in new schools. As their father attempts to get his life together and reunite the family, following years of aimless odd-jobs and music gigs, their single mother strives to better herself in academia – in order to provide a more stable life for her children on her own.

Over the course of the next twelve years, father, mother, daughter, and son all grow and change - molded by each other’s choices and challenging life events. Still, from grade school to graduation, Mason, Jr. forges ahead, attempting to find his way in an intimate journey through adolescence – one that is full of highs and lows (and more than one alcoholic parent) – before venturing into adulthood.

Boyhood is the creation of director Richard Linklater (Before Midnight) – who first began work on the ambitious feature back in 2002; over the twelve years that followed, the filmmaker would annually re-assemble his cast and crew – writing and shooting a new chapter in the life of Mason, Jr. over the course of a few weeks. The result is one of the most unique and memorable movie experiences ever put to film – and a must-see for any cinephile. While some filmgoers will be able to point out minor faults in the project, there’s no doubt that movie lovers who are interested in Boyhood (both its story and its production) will find that the film provides a remarkable and thought-provoking opportunity – to witness the maturation of a fictional boy, a young actor, an auteur filmmaker, and early 21st-century American culture, encapsulated in a single decade-spanning arc.

Boyhood Movie Ellar Coltrane Boyhood Review

Ellar Coltrane as Mason, Jr. in ‘Boyhood’

The Boyhood narrative is forgivably choppy at times – dedicating the majority of its runtime to eventful turning points in the life of Mason, Jr. and his family. Linklater attempts to get the most out of each episodic installment with a combination of bookended story beats, as well as interconnected threads – an approach that allows the filmmaker to ensure each chapter provides new thematic material, each exploring a different aspect of Mason, Jr. as he ages and evolves. In spite of its overall success, the format could be jarring at times for those expecting an all-encompassing (and steady) timeline - since certain chapters feature abrupt shifts, where side characters are dramatically altered or disappear entirely. Still, it’s difficult to argue with the final result; Linklater serves his main focus, providing Mason, Jr. with refreshed situations, a roster of captivating characters, and opportunities for development – all of which contribute to his vibrant portrayal of youth.

Ellar Coltrane portrays Mason, Jr. and, even though it’s interesting to see A-listers like Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette revamp and experiment in their 12-year roles, there’s no question that watching Coltrane grow up (as a fictional character and a young acting talent) is what makes Boyhood such an engrossing film project. Viewers, regardless of age, gender, and nationality, should have no problem identifying with Mason, Jr.’s struggles – as a young person trying to balance his own interests and desires within the confines of youthful insecurities and societal institutions.

Boyhood Movie 2014 Patricia Arquette Ellar Coltrane Boyhood Review

Patricia Arquette as Olivia in ‘Boyhood’

Few viewers will have walked the exact same path as Mason, Jr. but, in spite of any differences, Boyhood is a transcendent narrative experience, reflecting the triumphs, fiascos, and uncertainties of pre-adult life – made all the more powerful as Coltrane makes the transition from adorable child actor to a mature and poignant performer.

As indicated, the supporting cast is equally strong – with a gripping performance from Arquette as Olivia. From beginning to end, Olivia is charged with timely obstacles that will, without a doubt, ring true for single parents: struggling to provide for her children while also attempting to find happiness, fulfillment, and love for herself. While Mason, Jr. is the focus of Boyhood, it is Olivia’s choices that drive the film and its characters into untouched areas of exploration - often to stirring (but very real) ends. Like Arquette, Hawke takes an otherwise stock “deadbeat father” outline and, overtime, delivers an intriguing and earnest arc for the elder Mason. Alongside other male “role models,” the Mason, Sr. character is a smart juxtaposition for Mason, Jr. – especially when the film contemplates what it takes for a boy (regardless of age) to mature into a man. Just as Mason, Jr. grows up before the viewer’s eyes, Linklater charts a similar arc for his father – culminating in a number of moving father-son scenes in the final act.

Boyhood Movie Lorelei Linklater Ethan Hawke Ellar Coltrane Boyhood Review

Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and Mason, Sr. (Ethan Hawke)

Lorelei Linklater (Richard Linklater’s daughter) rounds-out the main cast – carrying Samantha from girlhood to a twenty-year old college co-ed. Unfortunately, while the filmmaker attempts to give the character a strong supporting role, Samantha receives less and less focus as Boyhood unfolds. Still, Linklater is solid in the role and, without question, provides a much-appreciated female perspective – and an intriguing (no to mention vocal) foil to Olivia. Since Samantha is cast in a supporting role, Linklater’s maturation as an actress is slightly harder to track; yet, her portrayal remains effective throughout, nonetheless.

Richard Linklater’s ambitious project comes with a few hurdles that might put-off casual moviegoers who were expecting a straightforward coming-of-age tale. However, thanks to gripping performances, relatable human drama, and an ambitious central premise, most cinephiles will marvel at the director’s noteworthy accomplishment – and relish in the unparalleled movie experience that Boyhood provides.



Boyhood runs 165 minutes and is Rated R for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use. Now playing in theaters.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Our Rating:

4.5 out of 5

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  1. Hadn’t heard of thus movie before but your review has got me interested in it. May check this out.

    Also, you guys changed the star description! I think I recall a commentator suggesting that type of description…

    • Yep! We are always open to suggestions – and have tweaked what a 4.5 star rating “means” to Must-See!

    • Worst movie I have ever endured. Already wasted 3 hours of my life. Not going to waste more time writing a long review. Avoid this vapid movie like the plague.

  2. I’m seeing this next weekend right after Guardians!! I’ve been very excited for this one. It looks incredible.

  3. Nah. I think this was a dull piece of nothing. The only reason this film is so renowned it’s because of the 12 years gimmick. Nothing about this film screamed other thing that “Oscar Bait.”

    The kid was a bland character that can be described as the real-life version of those “ONLY 90′S KIDS WILL GET THIS” posts in Facebook. He doesn’t have a true personality. Many of the events in the film are nothing but an attempt to get the audience to say “woow, I remember that event. How topical and relevant is this film.” The acting is ok, I suppose.

    And most important of all: It’s a boring film about noting. There’s nothing there. Nothing of worth, nothing to leave you thinking. Absolutely bugger all.

    • that’s just like, your opinion man…

      Also, Linklater doesn’t make oscar-bait films. The dude’s been nominated a few times but I don’t think he’s ever won. He’s more about making meaningful unique films.

      • Agree. Linklater’s films tend to be challenging. Not challenging as in “I’m going to rage against cliche and do something different for the sake of creativity” but challenging in the sense of “I’m not going to give you much, but if you want to really get something out of this, you’re going to have to dig deep and think”. Not everyone’s cup of tea, and admittedly, I have to be in a certain mood to stomach his work, but I’ll never walked away from a Linklater film with nothing to think about.

        I’m somewhat eager to see this film in theaters, but I enjoy these movies best at home alone during a bout of insomnia.

        • I don’t have a problem with Linklater’s others films (A Scanner Darkly is a fantastic film) but this one has nothing. It’s not challenging, and after the first reviews I was excited about it but it’s not deep, and it doesn’t tell me a good story. It’s your typical “2deep4u” story that you could read as a bad fanfiction in tumblr.

          • Sweet. Thanks for the insight. I’ll have to see if I agree with you after I see the movie. Did you catch any of Linklater’s “Before” movies with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke (Before Sunrise 1995, Before Sunset 2004, Before Midnight 2013)? I enjoyed those movies, and it seems like Boyhood may share some similarities due to the fact that they utilize the same actors and characters over years of real time. If they share more than the timespan mechanic, I would also likely enjoy Boyhood.

            • This movie is absolute garbage. Pure hype, is NOT in any way shape or form 5 a star movie, it barely rates a 3. Almost as hyped as Snowpiercer which was also incredibly stupid and corny, but at least it had some action.

    • The fact that it was filmed over 12 years is NOT a gimmick.

    • No doubt the film isn’t going to be for everyone (which I do mention in the review) but the statement that, “it’s about nothing” and “offers nothing of worth” is a pretty strong generalization.

      You might not have connected to the story or the idea but I disagree that “this one has nothing” in the entire film. That’s just a really broad statement for a film that does seem to resonate with other people, right?

    • I so agree with you! 2.5 hours into it I took my numb rear end and left the theater. I thought they got similar looking actors to play Mason’s part, not knowing it was filmed over 12 yrs. It was a boring film that only young people might like because I couldn’t identify with ANYTHING or anyone in this film. Lots of unattractive and dysfunctional characters doing the usual abusive things to each other. Yuck!

    • Your comment is well said and I agree.

    • On the money. The movie sucked.

    • I totally agree with the above post. I was entertained mildly in the beginning. I was amused by the technology and it’s evolution throughout the film. I too found Mason’s character to lack not only personality, but drive. What a boring, lazy, mumbling, bumbling and brooding person. I wanted to smack not only him, but his way too tolerant mother. The best feature of this film (beside the 12 year film process….face it, it WAS cool to see the characters age and grow) was Ethan Hawke. A personal favorite of mine and a true talent. He delivers as a “divorced dad” and does it in spades in my opinion. I felt the storyline with husband number 2 (war guy) was not given the ending it needed, he just disappeared. Sort of like how the movie ended……

  4. Looks like a truly beautiful film.

    I’ve always wondered if filmmakers would ever take this route and use the same cast over a large time span to cover the aging process in real-time and keep it super realistic. They’ve certainly accomplished this here and it’s got to be the first of it’s kind. Very excited to see the end result, could be quite a film.

    • His own daughter asked if her character could be killed off so she could stop being a part of this boooooooooooooooooring film.

  5. The prospect of the film being shot on an yearly basis since ’02 and your review with a 4.5 star must-see, makes it a must-see for me.

  6. alex doesnt have a clue, this film is wonderful, and a true feat. any linklater fan will love this as there are nice shades of the before trilogy in the latter years of the movie. i havent been able to stop thinking about it.

    • He does have a clue, in fact he has the verdict. This movie was not incredible. Bad acting, and bad plot. Only the ending was decent.

  7. What a lame movie about nothing. The acting is amateurish at best, except for Arquette and Hawke. If I wanted to watch a stupid, vapid teenager I could go to the food court at the mall. His political swipes are moronic and stereotypical as to what hollywood thinks of Christians and Republicans. The director can only slam conservatives like they are a flat cartoon character. Oh wait, the guy with the confederate flag who wants to shoot a teenager, or the grandma that gives him a bible, or the grandpa that gives him a shotgun. Does Hollywood really think the country is that stupid? I guess so.

    • You have to work harder than that to understand a good movie. The film didn’t take a stand on Conservative vs. Liberal – it just showed the stance the kid was raised with.

      Through the whole movie, you saw things from Jr’s perspective — even some of the most emotionally significant moments were denied to you, as a viewer, because they were denied to him (remember the parents fighting, early on? We got that scene through a window and a pair of binoculars, and we couldn’t hear a word of it, *because that’s how Mason Jr saw it*)

      His parents were both pretty reflexively liberal, so we got scenes of his dad taking him out to post Obama signs and steal McCain signs. And we saw that, when you grow up that way, being given a shotgun and a bible by your new grandparents feels awkward, foreign, even a little humorous.

      But flip that scene and imagine it from the Grandfather’s perspective. He didn’t get biological grandkids of his own, and instead, was handed a fifteen-year-old with dyed hair and multiple earrings and told ‘this is your new grandson.’ So how does he respond? By embracing the kid, giving him an important family heirloom and teaching him how to use it. That grandfather was an incredibly sympathetic character, portrayed as a good man. But the movie made him look silly, because Mason Jr thought it was all silly, and *we got his whole life through his eyes*, from how he was raised to the young man that childhood made him.

      You’re not supposed to like everything about him. But you are supposed to look back on his childhood — drifter dad, insecure mom, multiple alcoholic, abusive stepfathers, constant moves, no stability — and understand why he is the way he is, and think about why you are the way you are.

      It’s much more than ‘hollywood thinks conservatives are bad.’ If that’s all you got from it, you haven’t put much thought into it, and it’s a film that demands that you think about it.

      If that’s not your cup of tea, there’s no shame in that, but respect that, for some of us, a movie that’s open to a lot of analysis and makes us think is exactly what we’re looking for sometimes.

      • If this movie did not take a stance politically then why were these themes so prevalent in the film?:

        1). Ethan Hawkes -”Don’t Vote for Bush” comments
        2). The veteran soldier’s “We went over there for oil” mantra
        3). The old people in overalls handing out guns and bibles

        And the most outlandish

        4). The old white man, against Obama, with the Confederate flag in the background, and threatening to shoot the kid if he doesn’t get off his lawn.

        I know it’s hard for fish to realize they live in water but come on.. If this had been the other way around things would’ve been different. If we had shown 70s era feminists attacking a young boy with spray paint for putting up a McCain/Palin sign, the mother throwing a tantrum when she finds out her son didn’t buy organic toilet paper, or the entire family engaged in trying to make biodiesel from their kitchen scraps while wearing socks and Birkenstocks made from hemp would you have not gotten at least a little annoyed at the portrayal?

        These are obvious swipes at people on the right intending to provide superficial derogatory stereotypes of a group of people who make up the majority of the working backbone that make country possible.

        And the fact that you can’t see this gives question to your capabilities at critically analyzing and understanding the hard-coded viewpoint of the director’s own biases.

  8. One of the worst movies i have seen. So bad i left 15 before it ended because i just couldnt take anymore. It seemed like it was 6 hrs of sitting with an annoying relative telling you stories you have already heard 10p times

  9. I saw this over the weekend and In don’t think I’ve ever had more of a connection to a film in my life. I’m about 6 years older than Mason Jr but so much of his story and growing up in his family has had me thinking back on all these odd moments of my childhood ever since, not the big moments but the smaller ones that you remember and I loved how you could keep track of what year it was with the few subtle references/imagery they through in that just seemed so natural.

    This project was obviously a huge risk but I don’t think it’t could have turned out much better. I really can’t wait to share this movie with my family and friends when it comes out on DVD.

  10. This film had such amazing reviews, that I promised my husband it was going to be ‘epic’! What a disappointment. We stuck it out for a little over an hour and then had to leave the theater. It’s been a long time since I walked out on a movie–but this was just painful. All it is a glimpse into the lives of a family. All they do is get older. Watching the kids age and remembering all the old technology (of which the filmmakers were sure to take long strategic shots of television sets, computers, and Playstations) are the only interesting part of the movie and the only appeal it has to offer. Nothing happens other than regular mundane things of childhood. And while it certainly boasts being “realistic” it is so realistic that you wonder why you need to spend the full price of a move ticket just to watch other people’s boring lives. Watch some home videos for the same effect!

  11. Great review. I definitely enjoyed the film and left with a lot to think about…. The film makes you painfully aware of the fleeting nature of time, and while most people left the theater a little bit sad (regardless of liking or disliking the film), I think drumming up those emotions make this a film worth seeing. Full review here: http://eiram.org/boyhood-movie-review/

  12. I saw it yesterday and was completely mesmerized by the movie. The best film of the year for me so far.

  13. Walked out after thirty minutes. My goodness, people. Have you forgotten what makes good film? The acting was atrocious in the first few scenes — stilted and amateurish. Nothing in later scenes would have redeemed that for me. I got a refund.


  15. May be director has just focused on 12 years span while ignoring other aspects of a movie like direction, story and audience interest. wastage of time nothing else.

  16. Twelve years to make and thirteen years to watch.
    I quit after eight years – couldn’t take it.

    • I agree, I posted this-Are you people for real… and this is up for the Oscars….. moving is slow, uninspiring, not realistic and what about it is groundbreaking. I had to force myself to watch it… what human condition ? Intimate: there is no deep understanding or detailed knowledge of the human condition. There is no real exploration of the process of developing from child to adulthood. Snooze fest . It did not evoke any state of consciousness in which joy, sorrow, fear, hate, or the like, is experienced.

  17. I would very much like to say that I enjoyed this film, but it simply wasn’t for me. my grandson runs one of those multiplexes in the DC area and had told me this was the most ‘walked-out of film’ they’d ever played. Still, I tried it. My issue with this film is very simple. There was never any, how do they call it? A story arc? Or maybe I’m thinking of tension, long-term anyway. There were scenes that were interesting in the beginning but then, towards the end, it seemed to me a story about a young man who’s learned nothing from all the experiences of his youth, and a mother who never took her difficulties and made something with them, either. (though I thought the woman playing her was very good) Now, maybe this was Mr. Linklater’s intention. I just don’t want to watch a film about people not growing and continually making choices to be angry or sad or to just exit the film in worse shape than it began. (Lord, I’d like to think most of us grow more than do these people; it would be the end of humanity, were this kind of backwards development the norm.)

    I must also say, it does seem that people are very concerned about reviewing this film negatively. I certainly hope this isn’t a new trend – just because something’s ‘different’, it’s wonderful, and all that. Just my opinion, but I thought it was time I said something, seeing as lots of people I know have had the same experience and have told me they’re no longer going to trust reviews because of this film.

  18. Are you people for real… and this is up for the Oscars….. moving is slow, uninspiring, not realistic and what about it is groundbreaking. I had to force myself to watch it… what human condition ? Intimate: there is no deep understanding or detailed knowledge of the human condition. There is no real exploration of the process of developing from child to adulthood. Snooze fest . It did not evoke any state of consciousness in which joy, sorrow, fear, hate, or the like, is experienced.

  19. Just finished watching and oh boy do I regret watching that whole thing. I was just sitting there waiting for something to happen and guess what? (Spoiler alert) Nothing happened…. That’s basically the main spoiler I can give, nothing is going to happen! And omg whay an annoying character this Mason is, just painfull to watch. Slow, dull, uninteresting, such a wimp, very boring overall. And I mean these were the highlights of his life?? C’mon I have experienced so many more exciting things in my own life by the time I was his age, why choose such a boring character? The only thing I am really happy about is that I pirated this movie and didn’t pay to see this hogwash. I’ll never watch any Linklater movie in the cinema, that’s the only thing I’ve learned from this movie.

    And the flawless critique from others? Well let’t just say I am hardly surprised by it. We live in a world and time with the most ignorant population. The stupidity of mankind never ceases to amaze, einstein wouldn’t be surprised by this either. This movie and it’s reviews is the biggest “i don’t want to live on this planet anymore” moment of recent times to me. GET ME OUT OF HERE! I’ll sign up for the Mars mission / first human settlement if this wins an oscar.

  20. After watching this movie… My name on here is appropriate! This is by far the worst movie in history. linkletter should be banded from ever making a movie ever again… That would be justice! Nuff said

  21. I finally caught this movie after meaning to watch it for a very long time. Let me start off by saying that Boyhood is not my type of film. I mostly prefer a film with a storyline (no matter how bad!). Or even if the movie does not have a storyline, I would like it if it makes me feel some emotion (like fear and tension in Buried). Boyhood is not one of those films and my review may be a bit biased.

    Firstly, this is a very special effort – it’s sincere, honest and brave. But, overall, the film is very bland and vapid. It’s a story of how a kid grows up and I feel the director could have added a little more drama and tension (more on that later). The ending is what made me really frustrated. And, that’s probably because I didn’t understand it.

    However, the film is also very, very, very realistic. Sometimes, you forget that the film was shot over 12 years. The early scenes were written in such a way that they anticipated the changes that would occur in the world in later years. I absolutely loved the scenes with Bill, Mason’s first step-father and his evolution. One unforgettable scene was when the kids reach home and find the mom on the floor. That was powerful, shocking and scary.

    There are also other wonderful moments like Mason’s trip to the Austin (?) with Sheena and his weekly trips with his dad.

    All in all, this will definitely appeal to the art-film lovers in the crowd, but for people (like me) who prefer an entertaining and happening story, this might come across as a little less interesting, though you gotta give it a watch at least once.

  22. I’m sorry, Boyhood is just boring. I just saw it tonight and fell asleep and then had to rewind to watch the part that I dozed off in. What a huge disappointment. There are so many other, more interesting movies out there. This earns a big fat zero in my book (well, OK, maybe not zero, but 1-1/2 stars.)