With Boyhood, director Richard Linklater further asserts himself as one of the most innovative in the business, his body of work – which includes Before Sunrise and it’s sequels – already coated with more acclaim than most of his peers. He excels with minimalist plots, painting seemingly dull and everyday occurrences as happenings which are infinitely more engaging than conventionally pivotal events; Boyhood is all about this, and the subtleties that are usually brushed over in coming of age narratives.
This isn’t just any coming-of-age story though; what Boyhood focuses on is not the standard milestones in a boys life, but the bigger, broader picture – the evolving dynamic he has with his macro and micro worlds; the result is a movie that is unlike anything that has ever come before it.
Famously shot in small increments over the past 12 years, Boyhood traces the life of six-year-old Mason (Ellar Coltrane) through till the ripe age of 18; we literally watch the same actors grow during this period, giving the film a uniquely organic quality. Mason’s evolution from a kid trying to make sense of his troubled family-life to a young man starting to navigate his new-found independence is a journey which not only is deeply emotional for the viewer, but one of the clearest insights into developmental psychology I have seen portrayed in a narrative film.
Patricia Arquette (Olivia) and Ethan Hawke (Mason Sr) play Mason’s birth parents who separate in the film’s first block, giving Mason an early dose of attachment issues and emotional repression which become increasingly apparent when contrasted with his extroverted sister (played by Linklater’s daughter Lorelei Linklater). All four of these central characters are portrayed with a focus on realism – and all the emotional gravity and social awkwardness that comes with it; Hawke, in particular, is brilliant as he slides into the role of an initially bumbling father who enjoys his own, highly pronounced development as the film progresses; ending as a self-actualising man who has come to terms with responsibility, Mason Sr remains a rock for Mason Jr and watching him evolve while keeping the love for his children as a consistent force to his character is one of the strongest elements of Boyhood.
Arquette’s character remains a flagpole for self-acceptance and perseverence throughout the entire film, driving many of Boyhood’s emotional scenes that she shares with her children and the list of broken marriages which she puts them through.
Olivia’s eventual vocation as a psychology lecturer is used well to demonstrate the evolving world around them: her abusive future ex-husband is seen giving a lecture on B.F Skinner’s behaviorism, and then years later Olivia is seen giving a lecture on Harry Harlow’s theory of love (an evolution of behaviorism). It are these subtle changes in the world – supplemented by an ever-evolving soundtrack which includes the likes of Coldplay (“Yellow”), Arcade Fire (“Deep Blue”), and Daft Punk (“Get Lucky”) – which really gets at the changes in the macro environment in which this splintered family is set.
Linklater has written a story which sees organic growth in all facets of life, when he could have easily chose to focus on the family alone; this kind of creativity adds to the magnificence of Boyhood in a way that keeps it consistently great throughout it’s almost-three-hour duration. Swing states turn from red to blue; smoking in restaurants is eventually outlawed; the advent of technology subtly crawls into Mason’s life. This is as much of a nostalgic journey for any viewer who grew up in the same setting Mason did, placing the film as a kind of time capsule which must have been incredible for the actors to finally watch after it was all said and done.
You feel proud when Mason decides he wants to pursue photography; sad when Olivia is stuck in an abusive relationship; and happy when Mason Sr straightens his life out. The attachment you feel to these characters is as unique as the concept itself, taking the very idea of character development and magnifying it with a surreal, voyeuristic look that is usually reserved for documentaries and similar works – rarely fictional cinema.
The realism of 35mm film is kept consistent in the way Boyhood is shot, again driving right alongside that focus on blurring the lines between a biographical documentary and a fictional work, really bringing to life the characters in the film and making us feel as if we’re on the exact same trajectory as Mason Jr while he watches his environment swerve in and out of his control.
Boyhood is an ambitious project that came together extraordinarily well, graceful acting from all involved upholds the concept, giving Linklater another masterpiece to chalk up into his impressive catalogue while also setting Ellar Coltrane up as a bold young actor with a very fine future.
Review Score: FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Boyhood is currently screening as part of the 2014 Sydney Film Festival. The final screening of the film is scheduled for Sunday 15th June at 6:30pm at Event Cinemas George Street. Information and tickets can be found HERE