Richard Linklater’s twelve year production was always going to be a very different viewing experience to the run of the mill coming of age story. Personally I experienced an additional level of strangeness while watching since I realised about halfway through that I am the exact same age as the protagonist. The music and culture is contemporaneous and roots Boyhood into a generation. The generation who stayed up for midnight Harry Potter releases and listened to Cobra Starship during a “rebellious” phase. I guess this made the story hit me even harder since it ends with Mason (Ellar Coltrane) going off to college, a milestone I’m just about to pass. But enough about me, onto the film.
The film really has four characters, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), his sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), their mother (Patricia Arquette) and their father (Ethan Hawke). With the parents divorced Ethan Hawke and two other men make regular appearances as lovers and/or father figures. The neatly avoided trap is not to delineate the years too clearly. Instead the years slip by as if they were part of your own memories, sometimes you’re not too sure if the characters have grown, other times you see a shocking leap in style, voice and maturity. It’s odd to see the marked contrasts in the children every year while the adults seem to remain completely constant. It’s only when you see pictures of the actors at the beginning and end that the aging process becomes apparent in the older half of the cast.
There’s an interesting progression in the directing as the film continues as well. The earlier sections are less slick, a little more out of focus and less subtle than the later parts. It’s hard to tell whether the enjoyment increases due to the improvement in style and acting or due to how hugely emotionally invested you become in the characters by that point. Either way, you can feel the heartbreak deeply when Mason’s relationship, which can’t last more than twenty minutes on screen, breaks apart after two years. By the end of three hours these people seem more like old family friends rather than characters in a film. Bizarrely the exception to this is Lorelei Linklater who seems to give Samantha a more and more distant and cold air every time you see her. This characterisation works in context, since it keeps the spotlight firmly on Mason and his emotions, rather than an ensemble family drama.
Boyhood makes a bold statement about the nature of film, a respect to time and continuity that is gathering momentum and breeding a new generation of filmmakers. Linklater is a master at catching the natural, unguarded and deeply important moments of childhood.
- Entertainment: 4/5
- Artistic: 5/5
- Intellectual: 4/5