Boyhood (dir. Richard Linklater) - Since 2002 Richard Linklater has been filming, in annual segments, the actor Ellar Coltrane in a slowly evolving family drama that charts the boy’s growth from 12 to 18. This cumulative and patient approach to the filming process, drawn out over twelve years, never feels like a hollow premise or short-sighted gimmick but instead portrays all of its characters with a moving realism that gathers a genuinely unique alliance with time. No need for prosthetic estimations of bodily change, or strange recreations of ‘era’, Linklater’s film effortlessly slides through the early millennial years into the present with a powerful and earnest naturalism. A naturalism that is not so much the result of any aesthetic innovation but instead the astonishing result of filmmaking approached as a project of arching investment – each segment was filmed in that year and could observe that change in adolescence or childhood and thus, to an extent uniquely reaches an unaffected record of age and time.
However, it is not without moments of convenient drama and coincidence that occasionally trip up the tone (at one point the mother informs a Spanish speaking plumber that he ought to go to school as he is smart, and then, later: lo and behold, there he is – all suited up and Americanised, thanking her for that moment of belief). This is only a very minor quibble, as the film is to be commended for almost entirely avoiding such moments of sentimentality. Where it would have been tempting maybe to provide a ‘through the ages’ montage of nostalgia, Linklater never succumbs to such over emoting techniques. The transitions in time are also beautifully handled, never once are they flagged up with heavy-handed segues, chapters or self-congratulating visual excess. Scenes flow without signposting the advent of different years, making for an occasionally beautiful and understated glide, one that amounts to subtly toying with the experience of memory. This is effectively supplemented by the film’s use of music; without a central score the soundtrack relies on using songs from each year. Rather than creating a driving glamour and momentum that Scorsese often utilizes through his choice of pop and rock, it instead unfurls like background reminders of change…never as richly indulgent as the bottled ‘yesteryear’ and sepia spray of nostalgia, but equally still allowing the audience to gently intimate their own pockets of nostalgic connection
As always with Linklater, the dialogue is handled with the flair and attention that has characterised many of his films. From the opening monologue of Slacker (1991), through to the animated existentialism of Waking Life (2001) and the romantic crossings of the Before trilogy, his films have always sensitively concerned themselves with interaction. Throughout Boyhood there are countless scenes that astutely improvise the conversational nuances of each age: as a young boy Mason jr. expounds, with the imaginative confidence of a young child, how wasps are born from droplets of water; as a boy on the threshold of adolescence he mumbles his way through the first conversational encounters with girls; as an older teen he is fired with the need for defiant cynicism and theories of conspiracy; at eighteen he begins to sense the faltering artifice of “being adult” and how everyone, it seems, is always bluffing their way through, without purpose or plan. What really makes the film special is how Linklater manages to condense such growth, change and rites of passage while simultaneously not confining the film to a coming of age trajectory. While the boy’s own story provides more than enough to sustain interest, we are also continually involved in everyone around him. The mother (Patricia Arquette) and father (Ethan Hawke) are both fascinating portraits that, alongside the growing up of Mason Jr. and his sister (played by Richard’s daughter, Lorelei Linklater), lend the film a further depth and reach. Life choices, aspirations, philosophies, hardship and happiness are all weathered and expressed with terrific performances and an always entertaining, nuanced and moving script.
In the earliest part of the film, in which we see the 12 year old Mason cycling through puddled roads and enjoying his ‘pre-awkward’ boyish energy and adventure, there are scenes that recall Malick’s Tree of Life. Although, where Malick searches to uncover our relationship with the landscape and family as inherently spiritual, felt and remembered through moments of transcendence, Linklater remains enthralled by the fumbling sparks that constitute our relationship with each other. It is a film that follows people in their attempts to understand what to do with life and each other, not as part of a cosmic or spiritual analogy, but as sensitively, frustratingly and hopefully articulated to those we end up sharing time with.9.5/10