Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is an extraordinary film, both in its conception and its execution. In a world of ballooning budgets and opening weekend projections, a film like Boyhood shouldn’t exist, but thankfully it does and the end product is an endlessly fascinating and rewarding experience.
Boyhood follows Mason Jr (Ellar Coltrane) as he grows up in Texas with his elder sister Samantha (Lorelai Linklater) and his separated parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke) over 12 years, from early childhood to the start of adulthood. Each year, Linklater filmed a short chapter of the story and has beautifully woven them together to form a unique take on boyhood.
The film never feels like a documentary, but the tone and performances feel so natural that you almost forget that each scenario has been constructed. Linklater wisely never set a definite story at the start of the project, instead deciding to work on the fine details each year to complement the broad strokes of his overall narrative. What’s extremely impressive is how Linklater expresses the off screen character development that occurs in the yearly leaps forward. Even more impressive is the way in which Mason Jr and Samantha come across as the children of their parents; their shared mannerisms and opinions gradually emerge as the children grow. Linklater worked with the main actors each year to incorporate some of their own experiences into the film where possible. Ellar developed an interest in photography as a teenager so Linklater introduced this into the film. This blending of the artificial and the genuine experiences gives the fictional story a unique sense of naturalism.
This naturalism extends to how the characters appeared over the 12 years. Some viewers have complained that Mason Jr and Samantha became less engaging as they entered their teenage years. Teenagers by nature are sulkier and more reserved compared to young children; it would be wrong of the film to suggest otherwise. As the older sibling, Samantha is more dominant than Mason Jr in their early years. Mason Jr becomes more expressive as Samantha becomes a teenager and they both gradually develop their own voices and viewpoints as they approach adulthood. So yes, Mason Jr does sound a bit pretentious as he pontificates on the way technology is turning us all into robots, but we all said stupid and outrageous things when we were teenagers.The film is rightfully called Boyhood; everything occurs from Mason Jr’s viewpoint and there are only a handful of scenes that don’t involve him in some way. Even though the primary focus is on Mason Jr, Boyhood is a film with a take on parenthood, friendship, relationships and everything in between. Some will undoubtedly take more from the film than others, but it’s impossible to not develop a level of affection for the characters over the 166 minutes. Mason’s life may not have shared an overwhelming resemblance to my own, but I sympathized (and sometimes empathized) with the daily struggles and triumphs in his life. Life is a collection of moments over a passage of time and Linklater’s outstanding film cherishes the memory of these little moments as much as we each cherish our own.
Boyhood was released on 11th July 2014 is currently showing in select cinemas nationwide.