What makes Richard Linklater’s production so unique and so compelling is that it’s filmed over a 12 year period and the audience observes the same family members growing and developing and tasting what life has to offer them.
Boyhood is witty, sad, funny and totally uplifting – and it doesn’t take long for the production to make a potent emotional connection. It holds up a mirror to the human condition and reflects something that we often overlook – love.
Writer and director Richard Linklater is an amazing practitioner. His film channels the flow of real life, beginning with a six-year-old boy named Mason Evans Jr (Ellar Coltrane) and then observing the teenager transforming into a mature, philosophical teenager on the brink of a college education.
His mother (Patricia Arquette) has had a tough life. She is divorced from Mason’s unemployed father, (Ethan Hawke), is battling to survive in a job she hates and is trying to bring up her children single-handedly. Mason has an older sister Samantha, played by the director’s own daughter, Lorelei.
Mom wants to better herself and this means relocating to her mother’s home in Texas, with her two disgruntled children in tow, and studying further to improve her lot in life.
Her epic determination to make a better life for her children is an endearing aspect of the story, made more gruelling when she marries for the second time to an abusive, controlling, alcoholic with two children.
In its own quiet way, Boyhood highlights a world of marvels. It’s an intimate, delicately woven portrait in which characters enter and exit in a slow, steady stream – all making vital contributions to the family’s progression on the highway of life.
It shimmers with its assemblage of striking vignettes, an ordinary life made the more extraordinary by the quality of the players. The gradual ageing of the actors helps to inform and enhance their portrayals of the characters.
Living with Mason and his parents over a period of time allows the audience to feel a genuine sense of empathy with them. We observe Mason and Samantha going through puberty, discovering the opposite sex, imbibing alcohol and smoking pot. Mason experiences the heartache of a break-up and the bittersweet freedom of moving into his own digs.
Boyhood is certainly an ambitious undertaking. Though filmed over more than a decade, it still comes across as effortless and quite unassuming. It acquires its distinctive motif through the selective but growing utilisation of seemingly arbitrary but significant experiences in the family’s lives.
Linklater seems to have a passion for this kind of experiment. He helmed the Before trilogy: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight which followed two lovers over an 18-year span, catching up with them at nine year intervals across three films.
Boyhood is similar, but instead of creating three instalments he has condensed it all into one; tracking characters across a dozen years and visiting them once a year. This is a film in which we get to know a family intimately, something few films ever do. And we are in a state of elation when we leave the cinema.