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  • 15
  • Drama
  • 2014
  • 166 mins

Boyhood

Film4 Boyhood

Synopsis

Richard Linklater follows the life of American kid Mason (Ellar Coltrane) for a little over ten years, seeing him grow from early schooldays to his first year at college.

Review

Those who bemoan cinema circa 2014 for being out of ideas: prepare to meet your match. Richard Linklater, director of the peerless Before triptych (Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight) has here hit upon a no-brainer conceit that all but renders its generic compatriots obsolete. But the magic of Boyhood's high concept behind-the-scenes idea - to reform the cast and crew periodically over 12 years, thereby crafting a literal, ‘before your very eyes’ type of coming-of-age movie - lies in the many ways that Linklater harnesses the period and passing of time into his very unique project.

Boyhood drops in on Mason (Ellar Coltrane) roughly once every few months over the course of a dozen years, seeing him grow from kid to teen to adult alongside his separated parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke), his sister (Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei) and a supporting cast of friends and step-family. To start, Coltrane is not a precocious child actor, cutting more of an unassuming, naturalistic figure in early scenes of sky-gazing and rock-collecting; but over the years Mason grows from shy kid into a bona fide Linklater youth, the sort the director nailed in Dazed & Confused and Slacker, always ready with a laconic stare and a rambling philosophical rant. As with most real-life kids, though, Mason’s world is framed, shaped and structured by his parents, but watching the years melt away puts the audience in a unique spot, so that when he finally, in his teens, starts to develop a life of his own - and he receives his own Linklater-trademark backwards tracking shot (think: almost every walking-and-talking scene in the Before trilogy) - we’re the proud family members, amazed at how quickly he’s grown up.

If Boyhood weren’t centered on such compelling cinematic qualities, Linklater’s scope could be called ‘novelistic’. Mason may be our anchor, but characters, themes and settings grow along with him, making this film just as much a Parenthood (Arquette’s character’s progression from thirty-something single mum to successful middle-aged academic could easily be a film in its own right) or, if we’re on a literal title kick, American Family, as the States’ own social landscape shifts in the background of the drama, thrown into sharp relief by Linklater’s episodic, observational style. From Halo to Wii Sports, from iMacs to iPhones, from Britney Spears to Lady Gaga, Boyhood is a survey of 21st-century mainstream pop culture touchstones that, due to the very nature of its production, falls somewhere between the historical and the contemporary. And as Linklater incorporates the War in Afghanistan, the groundswell of idealism that greeted Obama’s first term in office, and eventually the recession, he reveals that while these events and trends may seem discrete on reflection, in reality they happen in quick succession, or sometimes all at once.

This captivating cultural cacophony is what separates Boyhood from nostalgic growing-up classics such as American Graffiti to Dazed & Confused. It’s a period film in progress, where each detail, from clothes to worldview, hasn’t been constructed, but is merely informed by its own context. Experimenting with his own comedy-drama formula, Linklater stretches his arms wide, to encompass Mason’s world in one single, remarkable domestic epic. And, to his credit and to our benefit as film viewers, it is all within his grasp.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, Elijah Smith, Lorelei Linklater
  • Director: Richard Linklater
  • Writer: Richard Linklater
  • Producer: John Sloss, Jonathan Sehring, Richard Linklater, Cathleen Sutherland
  • Photographer: Lee Daniel, Shane F Kelly

In a nutshell

Boyhood sees not only its young cast members slowly grow and develop before our eyes, but America itself. A unique achievement and a film of the century so far - because that’s precisely what it is.

by Michael Leader

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