Boyhood_film

USA 2014

Director: Richard Linklater

Writer: Richard Linklater

Runtime: 166 mins

 A unique and absorbing picture of American boyhood (if your parents are nice, white, liberal minded folk)

Richard Linklater is certainly one of America’s most adventurous directors. He is the first director to use digital rotoscoping for entire movies, as he did with both Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, films that explored the nature of reality and consciousness. Before Sunrise, one of the great romantic movies, involved little more than Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy walking and talking for the entire 101 minutes, an approach that was reprised in Before Sunset and Before Midnight (a little less walking in this one). This trilogy (and who knows if it will remain a trilogy?) spans an eighteen-year period, so the changes in the characters are paralleled by the physical changes in the actors themselves.

Linklater’s latest film, Boyhood, was – remarkably – filmed over a twelve year period, so we see the principal characters themselves age twelve years within the course of 165 minutes. The boy in the title is Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), who we first encounter at the age of six. Mason is a rather introspective dreamer who lives with his mom Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and younger sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). Olivia is separated from Mason’s Dad (Mason Sr, played by Ethan Hawke) who, at the start of the film, makes his first visit for sometime, having been away trying to “find himself”. I imagine that Ethan Hawke’s character in Boyhood is basically how his character in the Before films would have been if he had never gone travelling abroad. He’s a chatty, likeable, spontaneous, liberal-minded kind of guy. Despite being in his thirties he hasn’t quite settled down into a regular job, lives in a messy apartment with a musician friend, and drives a muscle car.

The most dramatic occurrence in the film is Olivia’s marriage to a man who turns into an abusive drunk. There are other relationships, too, that never quite seem to work out and Mason Sr. remains the one constant, proving to be a good father to his son. Mostly, the events in the film are just regular growing up stuff – relationships with parents/step-parents, squabbling with your sibling, changing schools, learning how to talk to the opposite sex – but lest this seem rather dull, I can only say that I was thoroughly absorbed by it all. Largely the reason that such routine stuff is so gripping is because we really are watching a boy grow up over a twelve-year period. For the non-American viewer, some of the events are less typical. One very funny moment occurs when Mason’s 15th birthday is spent visiting his father’s parents in rural Texas. Mason unwraps a present from Grandma which turns out to be a Bible in which everything Jesus said is printed in coloured ink. Just a few seconds later Grandpa appears with the present of a rifle. I wonder if that will get such a big laugh in Texan cinemas as it did in the audience at the British Film Institute in London. Perhaps American boyhood would have been a better title.

If I have any qualm at all about Boyhood it is that maybe Olivia and Mason Sr. are just a bit too much the nice, white liberal-minded parents. At one point Mason Jr. comes home after being with friends. Olivia asks if he’s been drinking, which he admits he has. She follows this up with a question – miming a puff on a spliff – if he’s done any more, which he also admits to. Olivia lets out an amused “Ah”, nodding her head, and that’s it – no concerned anger, no warning to just be careful, nothing at all.

Perhaps inevitably, some events don’t develop the way you might expect. An instance of bullying at school doesn’t get followed up, even though bullies tend to repeatedly pick on their victims. One of Olivia’s partners just disappears off the scene, as we shift foward in time, without us knowing exactly what happened. American politics is touched on in only the lightest way, so that you would never guess how vituperative the Democrat-Republican divide has become. Yet whilst Linklater’s own liberalism seems fairly nailed to the mast, he is also not beyond promoting the “American Dream”, as when Olivia tells a plumber how he would do well at a community college only for the man to turn up years later in a managerial position and thanking her for her advice.

You might be wondering how such a movie can possibly end. Let me just say that it probably isn’t too much of a spoiler to say that the way is open for a sequel; or, to put it another way, Mason Jr. doesn’t die in a gruesome accident or from some undiagnosed brain tumour. The ending, in fact, is fairly undramatic, just a rather poignant moment that manages to be both comic and profound.

Although Boyhood ultimately tends a little bit towards the feelgood end of the movie spectrum, it is nonetheless a genuinely impressive achievement, a real one-off, and a pleasure to watch.

Rating: 8/10

 

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Comments
  1. CMrok93 says:

    Saw this the other day and it has yet to leave my mind. Wonderful stuff, really. Good review.

    Like

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