Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette
Since his 1991 debut Slacker, Richard Linklater has quietly become one of the most innovative filmmakers of recent times; just a quick look through his prolific body of work displays many recent classics, genuine surprises and a good few shots in the arm to American Independent cinema as whole. From his forays into Hollywood with School Of Rock (2003) or Me And Orson Welles (2008), his dabbling with rotoscoping animation with Waking Life (2001) and A Scanner Darkly (2006), his low key indie features such as Dazed & Confused (1993) or the overlooked Tape (2001) to his adored Before trilogy, Linklater’s reputation is certainly not incidental. Boyhood carries on the enduring trends of innovation and vicissitude in his distinguished career and could well go down as the defining moment of it in years to come.
In a nutshell, Boyhood condenses twelve years of a boy and his family’s lives into a duration just short of three hours. The most remarkable – and much talked about – aspect of the film however is the fact that filming started way back in 2002 with Linklater and his cast gathering once a year to shoot approximately fifteen minutes of film until 2013. On paper, it appears to represent a purely novel cinematic experiment with no fluidity. The actuality, however, is one of the most enveloping and moving films of all time. Many films manage to pull off the trick of enabling audiences to feel like they have known its characters oh so well as they sit and vicariously experience the emotions generated onscreen, but never so thoroughly or as idiosyncratically as this.
The film does a remarkable job of signifying the passage of time with the year or month not once appearing on screen. We see early-00s technology to steadily evolve into iPods and smartphones, significant political events such as the invasion of Iraq or the election of Barack Obama happen on the fringes. Another clear sign-post of the time is the reliable use of key music which is as appropriate for the film as it is nostalgic for the audience.
But certainly, the most unique and, seemingly most apparent feature is the growth of all of the characters. In the Before trilogy, the audience is asked to fill in the nine-year blanks with their imagination when they are reunited with Jesse and Céline. Whereas here, we see young Mason (Ellar Coltrane, the boy of Boyhood), his sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, Richard Linklater’s daughter) and their mother (Patricia Arquette) all grow up naturally and together making the film appear like life itself. It accomplishes this astonishingly well because the growth is real. It is like the Youtube video of the guy who took a singular picture of his face every day for over twelve years and compiled them into a time-lapse video to show us his aging. The video just short of eight minutes but the scope is extraordinary because of the actual amount of time that has seemingly elapsed and simply because it too is real. Boyhood works in the same way.
The intricate logistics and engineering of the project seem to fade into the back of your mind whilst viewing Boyhood; it succeeds in doing this simply by being such an immersive and relatable film. There are not many particular huge events that happen during the course of Boyhood in the way of dramatic scenes, neither is there a real narrative for the audience to follow; it is simply twelve years in a Texan family’s life that documents all of their imperfections, minor successes, failed relationships and so on. Linklater steers clear of hackneyed coming-of-age moments and instead lets the plain yet remarkable reality of the picture do the engrossing. Like Linklater’s fellow indie director Jim Jarmusch has illustrated with many of his films, it is not only the biggest moments of our lives which define us, but the smaller ones too. Getting to these moments counts also.
The cast is uniformly excellent, together they construct a highly credible family unit and the film would have surely been filed under “interesting failure” without such convincing performances. Linklater regular, Ethan Hawke, is the kid’s biological but estranged father and his performance furthers the fact that the twenty-year strong director-actor partnership between them is surely one of the most proficient and rewarding of modern times. The majority of the weight of the picture however rests on Ellar Coltrane’s shoulders as he is obviously its focal point. Luckily (as the film displays), he turned out to be a very capable actor as the years went by, a lesser performance would have crippled the picture if not for him.
Boyhood stands head and shoulders above every film that has been released in 2014 so far. Itis 165 minutes long, but by the time it is all over, you will be more than willing to sit there another 165 minutes to see where life continues to take Mason. Even when he temporarily becomes a mumbling, floppy-haired teenager we still love him and urge him to move forward. The film is a genuine reminder of how cinema can gently take you by the scruff of the neck and transport you into another time, place or even life. For Linklater, everything fell into place beautifully and what has emerged is a masterpiece, both in its scale and direction. What next for the director, ‘Manhood’ premiering in 2024? Who knows? But Boyhood will surely suffice if that never emerges.