Reviewed as part of the Sydney Film Festival 2014. Click HERE for screening information and to purchase tickets.
Generally speaking, filmmaking is a long process. From the development period, to the post-production technicalities, the road from page to screen can be lengthy. Shooting itself is usually the shortest period, and while Boyhood’s accumulated shooting period amounts to around 39 days, the overall scope all but dwarfs regular film fare. Imagine filming, in different intervals, for 12 years. That’s the undertaking that director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Waking Life, School of Rock, the Before Sunrise trilogy) decided to embark on. Ambitious, to be sure, but Linklater’s coming-of-age epic is so much more than a cinematic experiment.
We meet young Mason (Ellar Coltrane) at the age of 7. He argues with his sister (Lorelei Linklater), spray paints and ogles lingerie catalogues with his friends. He’s a regular boy, with a hard-working single mother (Patricia Arquette) and a free-spirited father (Ethan Hawke) who occasionally visits. There’s no real “plot” per se, but, for just over two-and-half hours, we’ll witness Mason grow, and become invested in his well-being and the ups and downs experienced by his family.
Linklater’s decision to cast Ellar Coltrane as his key focus was an inspired choice. From a young age, Ellar’s performance is what helps carry us through. Not only is he convincing and natural in each period we share with him, but it’s his likeability that ensures that we care. As he ages, experiments with alcohol and drugs, deals with troubling step-fathers and struggles to find his place in the world, we’re with him every step of the way, emotionally arousing introspection as a result.
Mason may be the film’s ultimate focus, but his family is almost equally as important to the film’s emotional strength. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are fantastic as his parents, evolving and changing alongside their children. Arquette brings vulnerability and strength to a beautifully written role, driving home aspects of motherhood that many will relate to. Hawke is also very good, wonderfully convincing as a man struggling to juggle his dreams and his responsibilities. This family may have divorced-parents at the head, but the love is tangible and always present.
There are certain moments in Boyhood that fail to rise to the film’s overall greatness, and they’re mostly due to some amateur performances from other actors who appear. Still, this is but an almost laughable criticism in a film bursting with life.
Boyhood is ultimately a series of snapshots, a kaleidoscope of moments and interactions, of experiences and milestones. While films usually skip over the “mundane” elements of life, Linklater grabs those moments with both hands and presents them to us to take as we will. Musings and ruminations abound, constantly surprising and nearly always moving. “I just thought there would be more,” cries Arquette’s Olivia as her son prepares to leave for college – one of many touching moments.
Sweet, moving, insightful and soulful, Linklater and his cast have created something special here. Boyhood captures the essence of what it is to grow up and the moments that help form who it is we become.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10