Directed by: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Elijah Smith
Despite remaining admirably fixed to his independent roots, Richard Linklater is a director constantly pushing the boundaries of his art form. The Before… series proved he had astonishing talents for organic storytelling, while A Scanner Darkly showed his remarkable fortitude when experimenting with different filmic techniques and technologies. Though even when set against these extraordinary standards, Linklater’s latest cinematic achievement sets the director apart from many of his peers through its sheer astronomical ambition.
Indeed, if one were determined to try and find fault with Boyhood, the only gripe would be the title, which feels like a disservice to the hard work of Linklater, his cast and crew. For though the film’s primary subject is young Mason Jr., who develops from innocent tike to intelligent adult over the course of 12 years, the film is more than just a simple story of childhood. It’s a tale of sisters, brothers, mothers & fathers, a reflection of adolescence and a time capsule of contemporary history. Though many films boldly claim to be slice-of-life dramas, Boyhood, without making any song and dance about it, truly is.
It speaks great volumes as to the power and success of Linklater’s experiment that from the moment Boyhood begins the director effortlessly pulls you in to his very real world, intelligently captivating you with scenes that could appear to be entirely mundane on the surface. It’s here that the root of the writer/director’s sublime storytelling abilities can be found. Opting for subtlety rather than sentiment, Linklater takes you on a real-life journey to the very heart of domestic life that’s sometimes blissful, but also wistful. That so much of it manages to be relatable is what makes the film so immediately immersive; routine conversations between parents and children are juxtaposed with astute observations about growth and maturity, with Mason guiding both the audience and himself through an everyday life that can be tough, daunting and unfair, but also fun, freeing and rewarding.
What’s makes the film so incredible though is that even without the time-lapse device, which hypnotically documents the changes within Mason, his life and his family, Boyhood would remain a raw and powerful piece of cinema. The key is Linklater’s restrained approach, sometimes documenting significant moments in the lives of Mason and his family and at other times content to sit and study the quieter times that a lesser film would deem to be superfluous. What it creates is an all-encompassing experience that’s propelled forward by an easily identifiable premise, which in turn commands an intrinsically poignant influence that cuts to your very core. Whenever Mason, his mother, his father, or his sister feel pain, so do you. Their moments of joy fill you with elation; their achievements make you proud. Never before has a film managed to so naturally grasp an audience’s emotions and so smoothly alter them.
Driving this all-consuming tale are the sensational performances from the charismatic cast. Watching the unknown Ellar Coltrane literally grow-up before your very eyes is moving in itself, but his performance is so naturalistically assured that you soon find yourself failing to notice his changes in appearance because you’re so transfixed on his actions and movements. The same can be said of Linklater’s daughter Lorelei, who equally commands the screen as Mason’s slightly older sister Samantha; herself wrestling with the trials, tribulations and jubilations of early life.
However, the real depth of the director’s vision comes from the parents, brought to life by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. Arquette, in particular, is exquisite. She powerfully embodies the struggles of being a single parent with an understated conviction that’s haunting, heartbreaking and never theatrical. Her final scene is a meticulously built tour-de-force of emotion, which magnificently succeeds in never coming close to the realms of melodrama. Hawke meanwhile, shines through as the eminently likeable yet devastatingly unreliable father. Mason Senior is quite possibly the pinnacle of this remarkable tale, going on his own journey of self-discovery; starting out as a lost boy with a muddled mindset, before becoming a responsible adult grounded by the family that surround him.
The bulk of the applause must be reserved for Linklater himself though; it’s his groundbreaking vision that makes the film truly unique. As a piece of filmmaking, it triumphs in detailing not only the growth of is subjects, but also the changes in our society. Culture, technology and politics are all touched upon in scenes that are brief, but effective. When viewed as a whole though, Boyhood is a once-in-a-lifetime piece of cinema, which not only tells a story, but carves a slice of history and both thoughtfully and lovingly tests the boundaries of its medium.
It is no understatement to say that Boyhood is unlike anything else you will see at the cinema this year. Simultaneously it’s a tale of childhood, an observation on adolescence, a parable about family, an ode to maturity, a salute to parents, a celebration of society, an odyssey of emotion, an achievement in filmmaking and a love letter to cinema… or, put simply, it’s a film by Richard Linklater.