Richard Linklater’s intimate portrayal of growing up is an intoxicating combination of humour, melancholy and unbridled hope that will mean something to everyone.
Teenage Kicks by Dave O’Flanagan
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Richard Linklater´s latest film is a glorious tribute to the peaks and troughs of childhood. Conceived and shot sporadically over twelve years, Boyhood is a project that has been nurtured with such devotion that it’s unlikely we’ll ever see anything of its kind again. It seamlessly stitches the threads of time together resulting in a totally captivating cinematic experience. Linklater himself has eloquently pondered that time is the fabric of cinema, and this is a wonderfully emotional magnum opus of a man who knows how to resurrect memories and instincts from the recesses of our childhoods. With time his canvas, memories his brush strokes and an intoxicating combination of idealism, melancholy and painfully accurate humour his colour palette – Boyhood is Richard Linklater’s masterpiece.
Spanning twelve years of a young boy’s life, the film picks up with Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) in first grade at age 6 and culminates with his graduation from twelfth grade at age 18. Living with his single mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), and sister, Samantha (Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei Linklater) the film follows a loose narrative which involves failed marriages, domestic abuse, social awareness and all the experimentation that fills the gaps in our childhood.
Richard Linklater’s forte as a filmmaker is rooted in his fascination with time. Between sophomore effort Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Tape and the stunning Before trilogy which all take place over the course of 24 hours, his career is punctuated with films that hang on a moment. The idea of Boyhood came to him in the late 90’s when he had been a father himself for sometime, and instead of merely trying to summarise his own childhood, he wanted a film to examine what childhood was. After he had discussed the idea with friend and long-time collaborator, Ethan Hawke, the idea of ‘filming a little bit every year’ was galvanised.
Central to the success of Boyhood was the role of Mason Jr. Having held an open casting call in his hometown of Austin, Texas, Linklater discovered, Ellar Coltrane. Coltrane’s casting was as Linklater put it “a leap of faith”, and, it’s an inspired casting decision. Coltrane’s quietly powerful performance from the ages of 6 to 18 is both winning and convincing. Owing to the manner in which the film was shot – a little bit every year – there is a real sense that you’re not actually watching the young actor act, you’re actually observing him grow. There are a number of moments in the film where Coltrane’s emotion is so earnest and disarming, that the line between Ellar Coltrane and Mason is non-existent. Either way, from an 8 year old Mason throwing a perplexed glance towards his flirtatious mother and a beautiful moment of pure love in his face in a bowling alley in his teens, Coltrane is one of the many reasons that the film soars.
In addition to a wonderfully warm and entertaining role from Ethan Hawke as Mason Snr.; Patricia Arquette is devastatingly effective as Mason Jr.’s mother, Olivia. It’s a gutsy, personal and career-best performance from Arquette. She not only lends a grace and courage to the character, but she does so with a delicate subtlety that endears her to the audience in every scene – her interactions feel natural, familiar. It’s an intimate and touching performance from Arquette as Olivia balances divorce(s), single motherhood and her own personal career aspirations.
As if to avoid the obvious, Linklater’s script often casually saunters around the usual coming-of-age clichés, instead focusing on the aftermath of many of these moments – a trick that works incredibly well. The luxury of eschewing the more common clichés is faithful to Linklater’s back catalogue of films – he simply has more fun reveling in the smaller moments. The third quarter of the film suffers a slight narrative speed bump when the painfully self-aware Mason Jr. ponders the meaning of it all, but, it’s true to the character’s development. Linklater’s all-encompassing gifts as a director come to the fore with a soundtrack that subtly etches each year in your mind like a mark on one of the family’s door frames. Opening on Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’ and closing on Arcade Fire’s ‘Deep Blue’, each song perfectly fits the moment that any given character is living in.
Boyhood is a truthful and touching film which charts the highs and lows of growing up. It effectively recalls something in all of our childhoods; from pestering siblings, to the awkward quagmire of adolescence and the unbridled hope of burgeoning adulthood. Not only does it put you in the the faded grey Converse of Mason Jr. – it makes you feel like a member of the family as the film unfolds over twelve years. Boyhood is partly autobiographical of Linklater’s childhood in Texas, but it effortlessly evokes a collective childhood experience, a measure of childhood memory that is inherent in each one of us. It takes you back to experiences, to fleeting and unquantifiable memories of that time you nearly/should have done/did that thing that you’ll never forget – and at any age, that’s absolutely glorious.
Boyhood is released on 11th July 2014 in the UK