Film Review: Boyhood

Our Rating

Director: Richard Linklater

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater

Plot: Mason (Coltrane) lives at home with his Mum (Arquette) and his sister (Linklater); his parents are recently divorced. We follow their lives and watch them change for the next 12 years.

Review: 15 years ago, Richard Linklater came up with an idea for a project that would consume his next 12 years. Filming a few scenes over a couple of days each year for the next 12 years would take unprecedented dedication from Linklater, plus a strong idea of where the plot would start and finish. The challenge of creating a coherent narrative over 12 years of filming would take a lot of discipline, factor this in with the enigma of how the child actors would grow up, both in personality and acting ability, this project could have proven a colossal waste of time. Linklater’s gamble, however, has turned out to be a fruitful one. The finished product is a masterpiece in every sense.

Casting for this project needed to be a success if the 12-year shoot was ever going to work. Linklater had to bring in actors he could depend on, so he drafted his long time go-to guy, Ethan Hawke, to play the father role. Linklater then cast his own daughter Lorelei, as Mason’s older sister Samantha. The challenge therefore was to find a child actor who would be the centerpiece of the film. Ellar Coltrane was chosen for the role, a boy with no previous acting experience. Coltrane emerges from Boyhood as a star performer, growing up through the role he manages to convincingly portray a boy’s journey into manhood.

While boyhood is the central theme of the film, Linklater manages to capture life from a parent’s perspective just as well. As the film starts in 2001, we meet a six-year-old Mason, stumbling through childhood. Mason’s mother, Olivia, is a single parent struggling to combine parenting and the will to create a better life for her and her children. We are then introduced to Mason Sr., Mason’s estranged father, who’s back on the scene after abandoning his family. Mason and Samantha are going through the troubles and worries every child goes through; school, friendships, and the hope that their mum and dad will get back together.

The nostalgic joy of Boyhood is that we get to look back over the past 15 years, from the changing hairstyles to the latest fashion trends, the first look at the iPod, the excitement surrounding Harry Potter book releases. Linklater gives us an opportunity to reflect on our own lives within this 15 year spectrum. There is even a camp fire conversation between father and son about the possibilities of future Star Wars movies, years before the news broke in 2013 (Linklater must have connections within Lucas Film/Disney, that, or he’s a Jedi himself!). Somehow, every character we come across throughout the near 3-hour running time is relatable on some level; this is down to the brilliant script Linklater has produced, but also to the cast as they convincingly manage to grow and mature through the years with their characters.

One thing that sets Richard Linklater apart from other filmmakers is his ability to observe and realize the significance of small events that could be easily forgettable. This is something that Linklater has been doing for a long time, particularly in his Before Sunrise/Before Sunset/Before Midnight trilogy, so it comes as no surprise that he seems to have perfected this ability in Boyhood.

In Boyhood, the true end result of the characters’ struggles we witness, either from child or parent, is that life, at it’s most basic level, is a series of movements. New places – with new relationships, schools, jobs and homes – are experiences that require emotional and intellectual consideration. Sometimes these things instill happiness within us and sometimes they don’t, and so how do we manage our reactions? There is no sensationalism in Boyhood; happiness and trauma are momentary events. The people who add genuineness to our lives is what is important; being able to determine what is genuine from what isn’t is a craft that anyone can refine. Moreover, it is important for us to hone our perceptions because this is where we discover meaning (also momentary!), which can help ward off the most difficult of confusions, destructive behaviours and losses portrayed by some of the characters. It is this sense of stunted maturation that affects the psychologist and the corrections officer, who are, however ironically, unworthy of their professional titles.

Linklater manages to perfectly capture the best and the not-so-best of human beings in the most realistic sense. Boyhood is constructed so seamlessly you sometimes question if you’re actually watching a poorly made documentary, since the film is essentially a case study in fiction.

The only confusing thing about Boyhood is the fact it was released in summer. If this had been released in December the amount of Academy Award nominations could have broken records. From the brilliant script to the direction and above all the incredible performances from all concerned, especially a career best performance from Ethan Hawke. I just hope the Academy don’t forget about this one.

Boyhood will go down as one of the greatest films ever made, and rightly so.

The Breakdown