Richard Linklater is a genius. I would have his babies, and I don’t even know what he looks like. He crafted one of the greatest love stories ever in his Before series (Before Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight), and with Boyhood he does something that just blows my mind: he filmed a child over the course of twelve years, from six years old to eighteen years old.
It must have been a daunting task not only for Linklater, but for the entire cast, dedicating their time for twelve years to capture little blips of life, all of them growing and aging on screen.
In one breath we see Mason JR. (Ellar Coltrane), age six, as he deals with his annoying sister, and the next moment, it’s a year later, and they’re moving. Or is it a year later? The film never defines a timeline, and only briefly are birthdays mentioned. However, I could always tell when it was a new year because the film works as a giant time capsule. Instead of trying to recreate the past – be it with clothing, hairstyles, or even general electronics – Linklater is able to capture the look of the time, and that’s what hooked me. The film opens with “Yellow” by Coldplay, and the year is 2000. As the film progresses so does the music, which is an ideal way for the audience to tell when a chunk of time has passed. This is easier than watching Mason’s physical tranformation because these changes are subtle until he hits puberty.
So much happens in Boyhood, but at its core it’s about the things that ultimately define a young man. With a runtime of almost three hours, the film needs to not only stay focused, but also coherent enough that you can follow everything without it being spelled out. Mason’s mother, played perfectly by Patricia Arquette, goes through a lot of personal ups and downs, consisting mostly of failed relationships. We never get a focus on the exact passage of time, but we easily understand that X amount of time has passed, and that things have shifted for everyone involved. There’s only one point where the focus almost shifts to the parents. It’s slowly built up, and the scenes that play out really hit me hard. But, the next thing you know, it’s another year, and nothing is the same. Yet, somehow, it is the same.
Ellar Coltrane is fantastic from the first time we see him on the screen. He starts shy and awkward, and then we watch him grow, not just as a character, but also as a real human being. His voice gets deeper, and his mannerisms change a little. I do have to point out that his sister, played by Lorelei Linklater, is rough in the first four or so years of the film. She doesn’t have the acting range to be the brat that the role requires of her at the start, but as the films continues, she falls more into the role and comes off more natural.
Boyhood is an amazing film to behold. It might not be for everyone with its open-ended moments that require the audience to figure things out on their own. Not everything is handed to you, and that’s not always a positive thing for some people as I noticed a few audience members walking out of the theatre.
Here’s the thing, though: if you’re a fan of cinema, you are most likely going to fall in love with the way Boyhood was made. It’s so natural with everything it does, and the music and background objects took me back through these past twelve years. There’s no doubt in my mind that come Oscar season this film will still be on people’s minds. Boyhood has a lot to say and show, but at the same time, does neither. It expects you to fill in the missing bits. Yet, I left the theatre with a line spoken by Patricia Arquette’s character stuck in my head: “I expected more”. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but rather in the same light that her character does. It will be interesting to see if Linklater plans on making a sequel out of Boyhood in the same vein as the Before series.