Director: Richard Linklater
IFC Productions/Detour Filmproduction
There might never be a better film than Boyhood. You might see films you enjoy more – but nothing is going to top this as both audacious statement and beautifully realised (understated) final product. Sure, the big sell is the gimmick – shot over 12 years using the same actors, they age before our eyes, naturally – but it would fall over if the film had nothing to say; there’d be no point in following the story if it wasn’t imbued with heart.
Boyhood was worked on across a pan of some 4000 days – only around 40 of which saw any shooting. It’s extraordinary to think about that – the same actors, the child leads not even actors at the time (newcomer Ellar Coltrane is Mason and his sister Samantha is played by Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter) would meet at the same time each year and rekindle these characters. Learning to act on the job.
Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke – the divorced mother and father in this family drama – would make several films and TV appearances between their captured takes for this project, Hawke making more than one other film with Linklater around this. And in fact the director would complete a staggering eight feature films in between starting and signing off on Boyhood. And we’re talking some of the best films of his career too – in Before Sunset and Bernie.
Okay, so it wasn’t so long ago I was in a mild rage over Before Midnight (the conclusion of the “Before” trilogy – I really only liked the middle story there) but Boyhood will be Linklater’s defining statement. And so good is his body of work – as a film-body, a whole – the weak links are obscured by what comes later. That’s always been the case. Papering over the cracks he just keeps working, producing fine stories about lives so ordinary.
Boyhood is the tale of Mason Jr, growing up in a series of small towns in America, moving through school and eventually to college. As he grows his father becomes responsible, his mother questions her judgment, his sister blossoms – stops annoying him. We’re treated to perfect scene-setting musical cues and a host of fine character-acting. We can spot the changing fashions, haircuts and gadgets but we’re never forced into product-placement adverts. Because it’s a rolling travelogue, in that sense, the film cleverly avoids being any sort of advertisement.
But where Boyhood really makes its mark is in how it slowly, surely decimates those ridiculous Hollywood tropes we’re so used to. Here there’s no big comebacks or even comeuppances – foreshadowing can be misleading, or doesn’t even exist. There are no meet-cutes, no convenient clues, it’s reel life as real life, filmed in sequence – in order – as it had to be, given the form dictates the flow, it would have been created as episodically as a reality TV show, but it’s been finely stitched together so that the seams don’t show. And everything on show is exactly as it seems.
Where previously Linklater has had fun attempting The Great American Soliloquy as Movie (Slacker), The Great American Mixtape as Movie (Dazed and Confused), The Great American Comic Book as Movie (Waking Life) and even The Great American Movie-Homage as Movie (Tape) here he has actually made The Great American Novel. He just decided to make it – following his life’s training – as a movie.
And it’s impossible to argue with what’s on display here. His masterpiece. Cinema’s greatest triumph. (For now). It so nicely speaks to Linklater’s audience, covers the philosophy so crucial in so many of his films and so clearly goes against the grain of minimalist indie films (it’s nearly three hours long) and the maximalist Cineplex stock/shlock (for it is just a simple story – so simple that, like the best, no one thought of it, nor how to do it before).
Boyhood is lovely. And universal. You’ll see it and be transported to your own upbringing – you’ll think of so many scenes from your life. And then think after of the ones (hopefully so many) still to come.