There have been a few movies where the audience have been able to watch a character truly grow up before their eyes. Most famous of all is perhaps Antoine Doinel, a character whose life French auteur Francois Truffaut depicted for over 20 years through the course of five films.
Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” takes that concept and pushes it to a whole new level. Quietly and unbeknownst to most people who were not working on it, Linklater started filming a movie every summer for the next 12 years, chronicling the coming of age of a little boy named Mason Jr., played by Ellar Coltrane. Sister Samantha (Richard Linklater’s daughter Lorelei), and separated parents Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) serve the only constants in this life/movie.
What’s it all about:
Despite the daunting and epic task the filmmakers had to take on to make this film, as an actual movie, “Boyhood” is the complete opposite. There is no plot summary here because… there is no plot. It’s quite simply the story of a boy growing up. There’s no MacGuffin here for anyone to chase, nor is there an aim or goal to any of this. And yes along the way, you get to see him and the people around him change over the passage of time.
What we love:
Authenticity: Yes, like many of Linklater’s other works, it sounds almost too ordinary. Yet, in his trademark style, he achieves an easygoing sense of hyper realism, making everything feel all the more real that also gives off a sense of extra importance to the proceedings. And by using time as the narrative device in this crazy mad scientist storytelling experiment, a deep feeling of intense intimacy manifests as you watch the events unfold onscreen. Watching places and of course, people drift in and out of Mason’s life, you get the sense these aren’t just typical archetypes put onto screen… you’re watching people in the process of being formed, just like life itself..
The little things, they matter: Quite remarkably, “Boyhood” never really feels like a movie… instead bearing more similarities to a documentary as you watch the movie’s quiet, unassuming and seemingly ordinary events take place. It would however be a mistake to think there’s little or no drama in the film. It’s quite the opposite, actually. Linklater sculpts drama out of the little things, specifically the fleeting moments in the characters’ lives. Some of these moments mean a lot more than the others but that’s precisely the thing the filmmakers have succeeded in doing here in that life. unlike blockbuster movies, this film is not made up of just big moments, it’s just a string of events, big or small, some important and some much more trivial. Time passes through the use of hikes through beautiful parts of Texas, petty squabbles between siblings or even joyrides through the city. It really is the little things that stand out here.
Reconstructing memory: This mix of big and small things is reflected by the events the family encounters. Even though it’s primarily about Mason Jr, it’s also a film about a broken family being healed by the effects of time. Divorce, alcoholism, bowling, bad haircuts, even awkward talks about the birds and the bees… it’s through this mix of both big/small, good/bad things that Richard Linklater has seemingly managed to recreate the collective effect of memory into a film: made up by a bunch of snapshots that randomly resurface when we make the inevitable attempt to reminisce over our lives. It’s as close to real life as it will get for a film. The film is remarkably character centric but it even manages to capture the real world pretty darn well… through the use of Britney Spears songs and oddly, Harry Potter book releases. It all adds up to the ultra-realism of the film.
Most impressively, Richard Linklater has managed to capture the relatable subtleties of childhood and, to a certain extent as well, parenthood. The nostalgia, the bitter sweetness and the inevitability of growing up… it’s all there. Truly personal, Richard Linklater’s movie portrait about growing up, the shaping of one’s identity and memories and ultimately, the human condition, is a deeply emotional and moving piece of work. Already a remarkable achievement in terms of technical achievement, “Boyhood” never once feels like it would fall into the trappings of “just another gimmick” type movie. This simple coming of age story is the complete package: filmmaking ingenuity made up of stellar, natural acting performances with masterful, nuanced writing and direction from Richard Linklater help make this a thoroughly engrossing movie, sticking with you through the 165 minutes and for days after.
As the movie ends with Mason preparing to tackle adulthood, a few realisations begin to kick in: 1) the movie’s ending. 2) The next part of Mason’s life is also only just beginning. 3) Can this movie just go on and on, please?
Bold, epic, truthful, well-crafted, genuine, unforgettable and amazing… these are just some of the adjectives that can be used to describe “Boyhood”. But truth be told, there’s almost no accurate way to properly convey how great this landmark achievement of cinema really is. Watch it.