Richard Linklater is no stranger to portraying the passing of time on screen. While the rightly heralded ‘Before…’ trilogy saw the auteur return to his protagonists at nine year intervals, here he takes the concept even further. Shot over a period of 12 years, Boyhood is a gamble of epic proportions, and its paid off in near-miraculous fashion.
Boyhood is told from the perspective of star-gazing six-year old Mason (Ellar Coltrane, in the mother of all breakthrough roles), and over the course of 166 engrossing minutes we watch as he grows from kidulthood to adulthood. Along the way he gets visits from his estranged Father (Ethan Hawke), while his Mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) goes through a string of tumultuous relationships.
Try to explain that to someone who isn’t a film enthusiast in conversation and the response will generally be one of casual indifference, but the beauty of Boyhood lies in the ordinary, semi-mundane walk of life. Often when you watch films with time jumps, makeup is employed or there is another actor altogether. With Boyhood, there is no such workaround; you’re literally watching all these characters grow up in real-time on screen. It’s an absorbing effect, and it means the film is as literal a coming-of-age story you’re likely to see.
Indeed, there are no big dramatic events that drive the narrative of other (far less unique) dramas. This is the good, the bad, and the ugly side of life, and Linklater depicts it in subtle, honest fashion. It’s unsurprising, then, that Boyhood is full of universal themes that will likely resonate with many as Mason endeavours to make sense of the world and try to find his place in it. Furthermore, skilled directing means that cultural milestones like a Britney Spears song or a Harry Potter novel take the place of time stamps, and at no point does it feel like any minute of the near three hour run time is wasted.
At the centre of it all is Coltrane’s Mason, who only grows more and more appealing as he hits puberty and continues his rite of passage. In truth, all of the performances are equal to the extraordinary material. Though the film is rightly titled Boyhood, there is also a knowing reflection on parenthood. Both Hawke and Arquette are believable and effective as Mason’s elders. Arquette’s performance in particular stands out; her Olivia is full of strength and vulnerability as she strives to find a better life for herself and her kids. Speaking of, Lorelei Linklater delivers a superb, natural turn of her own as Mason’s precocious sister Samantha.
A remarkable, one-of-a-kind movie in addition to being a stunning cinematic achievement, Boyhood is a modern classic and easily one of the best films of the year. Experience it at your earliest convenience.