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The Virginian-Pilot Mal Vincent column

By Mal Vincent, The Virginian-Pilot
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Aug. 03--Little things mean a lot in the hypnotic new film called "Boyhood."

Devoid of melodrama it is, literally, the history of one boy's life as recorded by director Richard Linklater over 12 years -- using the same cast throughout. Part experimental film, it is also part documentary and all cloaked in fiction.

"Boyhood" is a movie adventure that, because of its concept alone, becomes a candidate for this year's 10-best list.

It traverses the ordinary: getting the first haircut, going to baseball games with the father, camping out, the first talk about sex with the parents as compared to the same discussion with peers, the first girlfriend, plans to go to college. The bases are touched in the most ordinary, familiar ways -- and yet we flow with it in a way that makes the running time seem brief.

Linklater ("Dazed and Confused," "Before Sunset") has a checkered past as a director. An Austin native and resident, his outlook is decidedly Texan. It is not surprising that he sets this family epic in Houston.

Because it is novelty filmmaking -- in the duration of shooting and use of cast -- "Boyhood" is likely to be a "specialist" film for a certain audience. It is novelty filmmaking that smacks of a stunt -- even if the stunt is engrossing.

While it's the type of movie that New York critics will go bananas over (which they have), "real" people will probably wonder what all the shouting is about.

Those "real" people should see for themselves. "Boyhood" touches you in very personal ways that have more to do with your own identity and memory than with the film itself.

We are persuaded to get outside ourselves and see life first from the viewpoint of a child, then from the viewpoint of a boy and, finally, from an evolving adult. It can be a revelation if you work with it. As a coming-of-age vehicle, it could be to the movies what "Catcher in the Rye" is to literature.

The most disturbing early scene is the way the boy, Mason, views his parents arguing. His mother, played by Patricia Arquette, bemoans the fact that she is trapped with the two children -- Mason and his older sister. She whines that she has always been either someone's daughter or someone's mother.

How does this make him feel? The camera does its work without words.

His father, played by Ethan Hawke, is a nogoodnik who dabbles in insurance, but mostly dreams of being a songwriter. He can't support a family. Mason visits him on weekends, living with his mother the rest of the time. The father would like to renew things with his former wife, pointing out that "we didn't put ourselves in a position to be good parents."

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Hawke, a soft academic type, is miscast, but he works hard to overcome it -- though he never quite does.

Mom wants nothing more of him, although she does tolerate his visits to pick up the kids. She marries a college professor who turns out to be an alcoholic abuser.

The jumps in time occur with no warnings. Just onto the next scene. It's a bit puzzling in that we don't know how much time has passed. We just know the characters look older -- and the adults age a good deal more than do Mason and his pals.

What we do realize is that Mason is a sensitive type. He is embarrassed that his sister bowls better than he does. He has no interest in sports. He wants to become a photographer.

He hits 15 and is reading Kurt Vonnegut's "Breakfast of Champions," feeling smarter than his parents. (We suspect he's right.) Mason suddenly realizes that he will be able to eventually escape their control and domination. It happens in every rite of passage. This movie makes us realize it very clearly.

He gets his heart broken. He realizes there may be more than one girl in the world. He gets to the age when he wants to be an individual, not one of the herd. He resents people who sell out and just want to be like other people. We remember the time, which, for some of us, has not passed.

Late in the game, "Boyhood" becomes a Woody Allen movie in its dialogue about the "meaning of life."

Mason doesn't want to become a robot, and the movie becomes less interesting as he gets older. The point of view of childhood is uniquely captured, but as Mason ages, he gets closer to the ordinary, which is closer to us.

The technique has been done before, most notably in Francois Truffaut's series of French films that began with "The 400 Blows," chronicling the continuing life of one character played by one actor. The series of documentaries in the British "Seven Up!" series come to mind also -- films that covered the lives of seven disparate youngsters starting from age 7. They claimed to be documentaries. This claims to be fiction, although we can hardly believe that it is not true, mainly because of the presence of young Ellar Coltrane, as Mason, throughout. His is either a remarkable bit of acting or the tool of an inventive director.

"Boyhood" is a noble, deeply felt, unique movie that exists on its own terms. "Hypnotic" remains the perfect word for it. It flows.

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"BOYHOOD"

Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater

Director and writer: Richard Linklater

MPAA rating: R (some language, might have been a PG-13)

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Mal's rating:

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Mal Vincent, 757-446-2347, mal.vincent@pilotonline.com

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(c)2014 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

Visit The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) at pilotonline.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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