Directed by: Richard Linklater.
Written by: Richard Linklater.
Starring: Ellar Coltrane (Mason), Patricia Arquette (Mom), Ethan Hawke (Dad), Lorelei Linklater (Samantha), Libby Villari (Grandma), Marco Perella (Professor Bill Welbrock), Jamie Howard (Mindy), Andrew Villarreal (Randy), Brad Hawkins (Jim), Jenni Tooley (Annie), Richard Andrew Jones (Grandpa Cliff), Karen Jones (Nana), Tom McTigue (Mr. Turlington), Zoe Graham (Sheena), Richard Robichaux (Mason's Boss), Bill Wise (Uncle Steve), Maximillian McNamara (Dalton), Taylor Weaver (Barb), Jessi Mechler (Nicole).
You would be hard pressed to find another filmmaker working today more interested is the passage of time than Richard Linklater. He has made films in real time before – Slacker (1991) and Tape (2001) – films about people for whom time seems be standing still as they wait for their lives to start – Dazed and Confused (1993) and suburbia (1996). Then, of course, there is his brilliant trilogy of films – Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013) which revisit the same couple at different points of their lives and relationship, once every nine years. That trilogy got better as it went along – culminating with the best installment last year, which retroactively made the first two films even better. That trilogy was more typical of how filmmakers portray the passage of time – a series of films, like Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel films or Michael Apted’s Up series of documentaries. What he does with Boyhood is more revolutionary, daring and brilliant – and is the best film he has ever made. He has made a coming of age film – which by itself is nothing new – but instead of using makeup to age the adults, and different children at different ages to play the children, Linklater decided to simply make the film over a 12 year span. Every year, he gathered his cast and shot a few scenes, and then they all disbanded for another year, before getting together again to film another sequence. The effect of seeing the kids grow up – and the adults age – is quietly, subtly profound and moving. The film, ultimately, is about how fast it all is – everything that seems to be moving so slowly while you’re living it, is over in the blink of an eye. Parents want to keep their kids young, but they stubbornly refuse.
As with the best Linklater films, the film doesn’t really have much of a plot. It would have been impossible to map out an entire childhood over the span of 12 years from the beginning, so instead Linklater focuses on those seemingly small moments that make up the majority of your life. Mason (Eller Coltrane) is 7 when we first meet him, arguing with his older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), as their mother (Patricia Arquette) struggles to raise them by herself, on a poor salary, with an asshole boyfriend. They decide to pack up and move to Houston, so mom can go back to school. It isn’t until the next year when their dad (Ethan Hawke) shows up – after spending time in Alaska, he comes home – and has about as much growing up to do as his kids. He has no job, no real plan, and although he clearly loves his kids, he’s not quite sure how to behave around them. These are patterns that will repeat themselves over the years.
What Linklater does, quietly and subtly, is show how the actions of the parents effect the children – how they grow up, what they believe and who they become. They see the mistakes of their parents, and are desperate not to repeat them, but then go ahead and make other mistakes. Both parents mature in many ways – Arquette goes to school, earns her degree, becomes a teacher and a feminist – but her horrible taste in men remains, and she repeats the same patterns over and over again – falling for alcoholics – one a violent one – and yet she continues to try and build a “normal” family for her children – who do not even want one. Dad starts out the movie as essentially an old teenager – still clinging to dreams of being a musician, bouncing from one job to another, driving his beloved GTO. Hawke’s physical transformation throughout the film is almost as shocking at times as the children’s – going from wiry and gaunt, to a middle aged man with a paunch – he also becomes more compromising, less strident in his views, and eventually – perhaps because of his kids – gets a “normal” job – a “normal” wife and a new child – although he never abandons his children – at least not like he had apparently done before the movie began. The children learn from their parents in ways that are never vocalized, but are unmistakable.
The film also acts as a time capsule of the years it was made. Linklater does not avoid pop culture, social or political issues that were in the news during the different filming periods – the music ranges from Britney Spears (as Samantha sings to Mason early in the film to annoy) to Lady Gaga (as seen on a iPhone late in the film) – and everything in between – and beyond. Conversations between father and son start off about his weird collections, move onto Star Wars (which, they both agree could not possibly be made in more movies – oh for the innocence of 2008), to sex and life.
Boyhood is really unlike any other film ever made. It was an act of faith on Linklater’s part to start make the film all those years ago, and continue year after year. So many things could have gone wrong over that period of time. Yet somehow it all worked. No one else has ever really attempted to compress the experience of growing up into one, almost three hour package, using the same actors like this before, and I doubt anyone will ever attempt it again. Yes it would be great for a filmmaker like Lynne Ramsay to do something similar from a female perspective – but that won’t likely happen. Boyhood is a one of a kind masterpiece. You have never seen anything quite like this before.