The one thing I can rely on Richard Linklater for is his uncanny ability to produce a vision of an era and show it in subtle detail both in language and in visuals. He is able to take dialogue and twist it around the very essence of his characters to the point where it feels entirely natural and completely real. His previous films, such as the “Before…” series, Slacker and Dazed and Confused have taken the element of time, of the past, and of the potential future and created a brilliant symphony of storytelling inside of them, and this film, this film does even more than that.
A true work of passion, writer and director Linklater began work on “Boyhood” back in 2002 after wanting to make a film and tell a story about childhood, and about growing up. Linklater though, in his own words, mentioned that the film was not a linear story about “growing up” but rather a series of snapshot memories over the course of a young boy’s journey through his adolescence. Not one to fall into cliques and obvious routes that many other filmmakers go down, Linklater decided he would film a little bit every year and create a snapshot of a twelve-year portion of the life of a young boy and the people around him. The same cast return throughout the twelve years in which the film was in production, this is a true astonishing piece of work and is, undoubtedly, Linklater’s best film. Returning to his Slacker roots in Texas, the setting of this film works as well as any of its other elements, and that’s kind of the point. All of the elements line up and bring about an experience that works beautifully from beginning to end.
The story is not really a deep one, and it doesn’t twist or turn or explode or fly you to space, it merely shows you the life and times of a boy named Mason, his family, his relationships, his thoughts about the world, and his attempt to find out who he is. The film, however, does not deal with these subjects like most films have in the past. There is a clear avoiding of the typical here with Linklater allowing genuine emotions and reactions to happen. The cast seem completely comfortable with one another in the scenes in which they need to appear close and familiar, and this goes a long way to highlight just how excellent a director Linklater is. The chemistry between the cast is undeniable and you feel, at times, like you are witnessing an actual family as they go about their lives, experiencing ups and downs, and holding one another’s hands, both literally and metaphorically along the way. It all feels so human, so bruised and fully able to feel pain and joy in ways that you or I do in our daily lives. The film doesn’t merely focus on Mason but rather uses him as the centre and gives insight into those that surround him, giving us glimpses into their lives, their experiences and their relationship with the young boy at the heart of the tale.
Casting a mixture of both unknown and experienced acting talent, Boyhood’s quality is even more eye-widening when you consider that the boy in which we focus on for three hours, Mason, is played by first-time actor Ellar Coltrane, and he is tremendous in the role. Watching Mason grow from being a six year old boy in 2002 right up until he is 18 in 2013, is something that I have never seen in a film before, and doubtfully will again. His sister, Samantha, played by Richard’s daughter Lorelei Linklater, is also a first timer here, and yet again provides a natural performance in the film. Ethan Hawke, as Mason and Samantha’s Dad, Mason Sr., who missed much of their childhoods, offers a performance that is exceptional for the way it allows us to see him grow emotionally and begin to accept his responsibilities and acknowledge his failures. Patricia Arquette as Mason and Samantha’s Mum, Olivia, is truly brilliant here too, her warmth, unrelenting ambition and beautiful tenderness toward her children feels so genuine and heart-felt. We see these characters adapt, change and grow in various ways, exploring possibilities and experiencing heartache. The side-characters we meet along the way, from partners, teachers, co-workers, friends and enemies all add something to the story and create a tapestry of growing up and living life.
Something I was thankful for in the film was the way that the years passed by without us being given an actual year scrolling across the screen. The cultural nods, the visuals and the music acts as a clock for us, and it is magical when it happens. The televisions go from being small and boxy to being large and flat. The gaming systems make their way from Gameboy’s to Nintendo Wii’s. The phones change size. The lingo and youth-language changes as we progress. We hear characters singing songs that highlight the time that they are living in, from Britney Spears all the way down to songs from High School Musical. The music that plays over the film is also a wonderful thing, beginning with Yellow by Coldplay and following up with various songs that speak of the time we are seeing, from Blink 182, to The Hives to Arcade Fire and many others.
The film feels like a Linklater film, you can tell whose vision you are seeing without even needing to be told. The nudges and winks towards past works, such as Before Sunrise, Dazed and Confused and Slacker are evident at various times during the movie.
I hear words like “masterpiece” and “future classic” and “best film of the year” thrown around liberally these days, with regret at times from those who say it, but I can safely say that I feel like this film ticks those three boxes easily. It isn’t so much a “drama” movie as it is a time machine of nostalgia, a look back on recent history and a keyhole into the lives of people who we, by the end of the film, feel like we know.
Boyhood is out in cinemas now.