6-year-old Mason lives with his divorced mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), and 9-year-old sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), in Texas. His father (Ethan Hawke), an aspiring musician, shows up on occasion. As Mason grows into a teenager, many changes and events happen including a new home, an alcoholic stepfather (Marco Perella), and his first girlfriend, April (Jessie Tilton).
Writer/director Richard Linklater follows Mason over a 12-year span from the age of 6 until he goes off the college at the age of 18. For the first time in American film history, Linklater filmed the actors year after year for 12 years instead of using other actors or prosthetics/make-up/CGI as the characters age. That's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what makes Boyhood so extraordinary. Linklater infuses so much naturalism within his film that every single scene rings true, and every small detail becomes an essential part of the tapestry of Mason and his family as a whole. Are you expecting big Hollywood moments like car accidents, fist or gunfights that send someone to the hospital or, perhaps, flashbacks to key scenes to connect the dots thematically for you? If that's the case, our culture/society has probably conditioned you to respond in that way much like Pavlov's dog was conditioned in the classic experiment which Boyhood refers to in yet another small, but profound scene. Linklater gives you the task of connecting the dots and deciding how much weight each moment should be given and how it affects Mason; a Hollywood director would've spoon-fed you everything. After all, growing up can be a roller coaster ride of, among other things, angst, happiness, sadness, confusion as well as a sense of hope, and Linklater captures all of that more palpably and authentically than any American film director has captured before. To summarize the plot doesn't really do it any justice because, just like life, it's simply complex.
Yes, Boyhood clocks at 165 minutes, but you know you're watching a truly great film because you don't feel the weight of its running time and you never want it to end. Every scene feels genuinely poignant and, at least to a certain degree, relatable. The acting all across the board is very natural, and, unlike most American films that fall apart by the end credits, Boyhood boasts a strong beginning, middle and end. Moreover, within all of the moments of gravitas, Linklater infuses the film with just the right amount of comic relief without any sense of unevenness that would've taken away from the film's momentum. For 165 minutes, you'll join Mason along for his emotional journey through adolescence, and laugh when he laughs, feel happy when he's happy, sad when he's sad, and proud of his achievements. He's the kind of character that you'll still be thinking about for years to come. If you were to watch Boyhood again 10 years down the road, you might perceive new layers of insight within its complexity. Ultimately, it's one of the most profound and human American films in years and, if it does well enough in theaters, it could crack the ice to begin a new Golden Age of American Cinema. Why can't Hollywood make films like this anymore? Now critics need only worry about their other 9 Best Films of the Year.
Evolution of a Criminal, directed by Darius Clark Monroe, follows the Darius as he seeks redemption for the crime he committed that sent him to prison for 5 years: bank robbery. Heartfelt interviews with family and friends paint a picture of what Darius was like before the robbery, what let to it, and how they've all been affected by it. Darius' remorse after getting released and rehabilitated may or may not be genuine----that part is left up to you to decide. Dramatic re-enactments of the robbery are well-directed and help make the doc more accessible. Somewhat less accessible, but nonetheless captivating and illuminating is the doc Approaching the Elephant because it's a fly-on-the-wall glimpse of the experiences of a few students at Teddy McArdle Free School throughout the course of 1 year. What makes that school so unique, you ask? It's a "free school" that has no rules regarding attendance and gives the students democratic power to choose to learn whatever they want. There are no grades, homework or anything else you might expect from a standard school (except for instructors). Director Amanda Wilder captures the daily life of the students and teachers at the school in a way that gives you a sense of their struggles. It's not easy for either of them. You'll find it interesting to observe how the kids, ranging from 5 to 12 years old, develop their own place in that democratic society; some are troublemakers while others are more tranquil and well-behaved. Bravo to Wilder for taking the Frederick Wiseman approach by merely observing instead of relying on talking head interviews as a means of informing the audience. She truly trusts the audience's intelligence, and that's quite refreshing. When it comes to narratives in the fest, there a few besides the terrific Boyhood that you should check out. Desiree Akhavan writes, directs and stars in Appropriate Behavior about a young Persian-American woman, Shirin (Desiree Akhavan), who has issues dealing with her identity as a bisexual because she's still in the closet from her family. On top of that, she's jobless and hasn't yet overcome her break-up with her ex-girlfriend, Maxine (Rebecca Henderson). Shirin is an interesting character and a complex female role which is rare to find nowadays. Akhavan blends drama, comedy and quirkiness successfully without resorting to cheap, lowbrow humor or shock value like in Obvious Child. It also helps that Akhavan's performance feels very lived in. L for Leisure, written and directed by Whitney Horn and Lev Kalman, shows graduate students from around the world as they celebrate the holidays between 1992 and 1993. Blending documentary and drama sans much in terms of a plot makes for an initially perplexing experience, but, although it does meander, it gets better and somewhat more compelling as it goes along because it actually feels like footage that was captured back in the 90's---there's something about the well-chosen soundtrack and cinematography that keeps you engaged for the most part. Perhaps the most enigmatic, bold and bizarre film of the fest is For the Plasma about a young woman, Helen (Rosalie Lowe) who works at a house secluded near the woods of Maine. She keeps surveillance of the woods around the house for forest fires while concurrently making money from her predictions in the financial market. Helen's friend, Charlie (Anabelle LeMieux), soon joins her, helps her to pick out a frame from the video surveillance, and goes to that locations to study the differences, however subtle, between the video of that location and the location itself. Some of the film comes across as experimental, and the pace feels slow (and it could have ended a bit sooner) thereby testing your patience, but it does have a fair share of strangely provocative moments and visuals. All-in-all, it's a film that's best experienced rather than described.