Film review: Boyhood

When a film takes years to make, it’s often not a good sign.  Richard Linklater’s Boyhood took a total of 12 – and there’s absolutely nothing to worry about.  He wanted it that way.

It follows Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he grows from a six year old boy to a young man of 18, going off to college.  But there’s no change of actor.  Instead, the director took the novel, and more realistic, approach of using the same actor all the time.  Every year over the course of 12 years, the same cast and crew re-united to film the next stage of the story, so we watch Mason grow before our very eyes.

 

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But it isn’t just his story, because we’re following his whole family at the same time, even though we see them through his eyes.  At the start of the film, he’s living with his mother (Patricia Arquette) and his precocious sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater).  His parents are separated but his wannabe musician father (Ethan Hawke) is a regular visitor, trying – sometimes just a little too hard – to maintain a good relationship with his children.  We follow Mason through his mother’s new relationships, the landmarks of his young life, the changes in his father’s set-up and, ultimately, to his arrival at college.

So there’s no moments of high melodrama, no heroes as such and the closest we get to an actual villain is the mother’s alcoholic second husband.  And, as we get to know the characters during the course of the film, our opinions of some of them shift.  At the outset, the father seems feckless but well-intentioned.  Once settled again with a new girlfriend, baby and regular job, it becomes apparent that, first time round, he simply wasn’t ready for the responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood.  He isn’t the first, he won’t be the last.

 

 

Boyhood is a special film for so many reasons.  An intelligent, sensitive portrait of family life, it’s full of the details and subtleties that characterise Linklater’s work.  More than that, it has a universal appeal.  Parents will immediately identify with the struggles, frustrations and joys of bringing up children, but it will appeal just as much to people without children.  We were all young once and everybody will see something on the screen that echoes the experience of their earlier life.  It also takes the view that childhood is no place for the young – and the adults, even though they’ve been there themselves, aren’t necessarily good at coping with it either.

It almost goes without saying that the acting is excellent throughout.  Patricia Arquette is especially moving as the mother facing the prospect of her son leaving for college – and the empty house.  And the older Ellar Coltrane genuinely looks as though his dad really could be Ethan Hawke, even though there’s no way that Richard Linklater would’ve seen that one coming!

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My rating is 9/10.  Linklater has taken an original approach to his story, allowing us to get so close to the people on the screen that we feel like an invisible member of the family.  Its running time of just under three hours might seem like a stretch, but there is never a moment when you are less than absorbed.  Sit back and let it wash over you.

 

Boyhood, certificate 15, opens around the UK on Friday, 11 July 2014.

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