Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a quiet epic. By now, anyone with even the vaguest interest in movies will no doubt be aware of the film’s unique gestation, however for those not in the know, here’s a quick catch up. Shot across 12 years, Boyhood follows its lead actor (and those around him) from childhood to maturity. Linklater and his team filmed intermittently in week-long stints from May 2002 to October 2013, revisiting the film’s key players at key points in their lives.
It was undoubtedly a risky move, leaving multiple things to chance. What if – God forbid – something happened to your principal cast in the intervening years, preventing them from completing the film? What if – God forbid – your young cast just grew up to be terrible actors? Thankfully, Linklater’s latest manages to skillfully avoid all ‘What if’ scenarios, presenting an introspective look at life that when all’s said and done – proves to be much more than the sum of its parts.
Our guide through Boyhood is Mason Jr (Ellar Coltrane), a quiet 12-year-old who lives in suburban America with his mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). Mason’s wannabe rockstar father Mason Sr (Ethan Hawke) visits on weekends, much to the annoyance of his put-upon mother who struggles to make ends meet. Over the years we see Mason and his sister follow their mother as she returns to education, gains and loses two husbands and eventually sends her kids off to college. Meanwhile, Mason Sr’s life continues too; ditching his musical dreams for a comparatively tame family unit but all the while remaining a constant presence in the lives of Mason Jr and his sister.
Of course, this is just a surface description of what happens. Like life itself, plenty of stuff happens in between. We drop in on Mason and his family at regular intervals, where time has notably taken its toll. We see the turbulent effects of divorce, the ups and downs of teen love and how life can, and often will, take you in unexpected directions.
Linklater’s unconventional film is a gamble that fully pays off, largely thanks to its newcomer lead Ellar Coltrane who handles his unusual debut with confidence and aplomb. Thankfully his supporting cast are just as watchable. Patricia Arquette delivers the performance of her career as a modern day mother figure struggling – sometimes violently – to keep her small family together before time inevitably invites them to flee the nest. Likewise, Ethan Hawke delivers a similarly impressive turn as Mason Jr and Samantha’s father. He may take a little longer to settle into his paternal role but his heart’s in the right place throughout the entire journey. Cinematically, it would have been easy to paint Mason Sr as the film’s bad guy but life isn’t as black and white as good and bad and as such Hawke remains likable and a joy to watch.
Written in spurts to reflect his cast’s ever-changing age, Linklater has taken what could have been a mixed-bag of disjointed scenes and made a complatative story about the minutiae of life and relationships. But how do you wrap up a an examination of why we’re here? Like most of us trying to figure out the great mystery, Linklater east some pot and heads to the desert, the perfect place to digest such a deep subtext. With so much to process, it’s no surprise that Boyhood clocks in at a hefty two hours forty five minutes, however the story’s so compelling it feels shorter. Proof – if you still needed it – that time does indeed fly.
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