Having had my head pummeled and permeated by the blockbuster machine that takes residence every summer, it was a mighty relief to settle down for Richard Linklater’s latest, and much talked about project- Boyhood. Clearly blithe to the conventions of studio driven cinema, the Texan director has cemented his reputation as a proprietor of original filmmaking. Harking back to 2002, just before shooting cult flick School of Rock, Linklater had started building the foundations for Boyhood, patiently allocating a few precious days a year to start telling this once in a lifetime story.
A Silver Bear winner at this year’s Berlin film festival, Boyhood was shot in 39 days over a period of 12 years and has already been hailed as his crowning achievement. Perhaps it was Linklater’s background as a self-taught writer/director that helps buoy his artistic freedom to create movies that are touched with this overarching feel of tender, independent storytelling. To shoehorn Boyhood as a coming of age tale would not only be patronising, but would also misrepresent the films message. Whilst we may bear witness to our main protagonist; a six-year old Mason (Ellar Coltrane) sprouting through adolescence, it is important to look beyond that- to the wholly convincing dynamic between all four members of this typically dysfunctional family. Through Linklater’s writing and docu-style shooting, us the audience can’t help but identify with these characters, seeing through their eyes the changing nature of motherhood, fatherhood and sibling ties.
As time progresses we witness a truthful account of a young boy tussling with the changing landscape of life as a teenager- a deepening of vocal chords, lengthening limbs and toe curling romantic angst. No longer is Mason a 6 year old boy drifting off in class, but a budding photographer with glorious blue painted nails. These movements are interspersed with camping trips, baseball games and caped cinema outings to Harry Potter. Meanwhile, his sister Samantha’s (played brilliantly by Linklater’s unaffected daughter, Lorelei) development aligns almost to a tee. Although we are not privy to all her personal trials and tribulations, the growing number of Lorelei’s birthday candles and increasingly creative teasing of Mason is captured unmistakably.
Admittedly, there may be a necessary familiarity about the transition of a boy to man, or girl to woman, but there is nothing formulaic about the makeup of their separated parents. Their mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) has to juggle the endless rigors of single parenthood, shouldering the burden of financial pressures and claustrophobic misery of abusive relationships. There is clearly a strong message about the surreal horrors of alcohol addiction- one seemingly harmless, dower partner in a short space of time starts to resemble Ike Turner in beige chinos. Whilst Mason’s mother may anchor the family, Mason Snr (Ethan Hawke) appears to be the wind in its sails, irresponsibly swooping into their lives unannounced- much to the delight of the children, and frustration of Olivia. Ethan Hawke’s energy and charisma are a real asset to the picture, offering it lighthearted episodes that steer it clear from overplayed sentimentality. But even his somewhat chaotic life begins to ease, as Mason Snr matures from a Pontiac driving, wannabe musician to a mustachioed man taking fatherhood far more seriously in his family minivan.
The narrative of various journeys taking place within the story is always quietly observed, as Linklater favours implied messages rather than treating the audience as mannequins rustling popcorn. In one understated scene it suddenly occurs that Mason and Samantha now prefer conversational death- twiddling their thumbs restlessly on iPhones, no longer content charging around freely in the outdoors. This realization is poignant, and of course harnesses a social commentary on the explosion of technology. Like the planting of a tree, it’s the subtle, finer details that gradually grow and flourish to great effect. Rather than looking at them, you are gently encouraged to share their ambitions and experiences (even if this means nodding reluctantly to Coldplay- Yellow).
Where the likes of Lars Von Trier’s Dimension have fallen short in the past, the devotion of Linklater has ultimately triumphed in this highly ambitious project. The film is shot beautifully, and with remarkable continuity when you consider the gaps of time that are sprawled between each segment. With a running time on a par with Transformers 4: Age of Extinction, there is no clubbing your senses or glancing at ones watch, just a charmingly told tale that sees you speed dialing home upon exit.