Richard Linklater is probably one of the most eclectic filmmakers working today. From romance films with the Before trilogy to dark comedies with Bernie to mainstream comedies with School of Rock to twisted sci-fi films with A Scanner Darkly, there is a Linklater film out there for everyone. His major project though has been one he’s spent the last 12 years filming, Boyhood, and it’s probably the best film that Linklater has made.
The plot concerns the life of Mason, from his first day of school in 2002 to going to university in 2013 and we see all the things that go on in his life during that time, from difficulties he has making friends to his first experience drinking to high school romances. We also see what happens to Mason’s mum during that time period, going through a series of abusive relationships, studying to get a degree she missed out on when she was younger and how she reacts to her children growing up. What the film does best is capture a sense of reality. There isn’t really anything special about the plot of the film, and other films have looked at children growing up, but this film feels the most real and the 12 year shoot is what adds to it. Over the course of the film we see the changes in technology and culture, from the cultural phenomenon of Harry Potter at the start of the film, to the use of Facetime at the end and the way that the changes are made really reminds me of how it happened during the time, when all of these changes came about and they were so sudden that you don’t notice them, and speaking as someone who grew up in the same time period that the film is set, it’s something that I do remember happening. This is also true for seeing the characters grow up. Sometimes the changes are so subtle that you don’t notice them at first and it’s only through background events that you realise the change in year. Other times you see these massive changes in the characters that you wonder whether or not it’s the same person. This adds to the reality of the film as you often don’t notice when people around you grow up unless the changes are drastic, such as going under a major growth spurt or the voice breaking. This all makes the film feel incredibly real and I have to commend Linklater for how he incorporated the changing environment into the script as the film went on to make it feel natural. There are also a few elements of the film that feel really similar to other Linklater films, for example, there’s a part in the film where Mason and his girlfriend wander around Austin for the night, which feels a lot like Before Sunrise, showing that, amidst the reality, there is still the creative voice of Linklater shining through.
The performances meanwhile are excellent. Ellar Coltrane is a revelation as Mason. He brilliantly shows everything that happens to him throughout the 12 year period, showing the fear he feels during the abusive relationships his mother has, the heartbreak he feels when relationships he has fall through and he has the suitably awkward moments that teenagers face. He also shows the lack of focus that people have at certain points of their lives and the inspirations that he feels to give him focus on what he wants to do. Plus, it was insanely good luck that Linklater found someone who would end up looking so much like Ethan Hawke that I fully believed that the two were related. Lorelei Linklater meanwhile is great as his sister Samantha. At the start of the film she brilliantly brings across the annoying sibling quality, and steals quite a lot of the scenes she’s in and as the film goes on, she shows the changes that teenage girls go through really well and does show that she cares about Mason in some way, despite not showing it on the outside. Patricia Arquette is also great as Mason’s mum, showing the perils that are faced by single parents in terms of managing looking after kids and working at the same time, along with her trying to re-educate herself. She also has a lot of the best emotional scenes in the film due to her reacting to a lot of what happens, mainly the abusive relationships she finds herself in and that she may have missed a large part of Mason and Samantha growing up and the fear that she’ll never experience that again. Ethan Hawke is also great as Mason’s dad. At the start of the film he has this sense of prolonged adolescence with him not focusing on work, trying to start a band and focusing a lot on his classic sports car. As the film goes on though, we slowly see him start to mature and take responsibility for his life, along with him starting a new relationship. This also establishes the point that sometimes relationships end up going well, with Hawke having a long term stable relationship by the end of the film, and sometimes relationships go badly and that it’s all luck over whether you get a good or bad one. Other highlights include the actors playing the men in the abusive relationships who brilliantly show why someone would fall in love with them at the start of the relationships and gradually showing their true, abusive nature as the film goes on, which feels like one of the more believable depictions of a abusive relationship I’ve seen in a film.
Overall, Boyhood is a film that will go down as a future classic. Aside from being shot over 12 years, there isn’t really anything special about Boyhood but the film brilliantly captures the power that everyday life can bring and how life can just pass people by with big changes going unnoticed and the impact that all the different events over the past 12 years have had on people growing up during this time. This film, even more than the Before trilogy, will go down as Linklater’s masterpiece.
My Rating: 5/5