FILM REVIEW: Boyhood
Boyhood is a cinematic time machine powered by actors, patience and planning. It may not cover the dramatic distance of a film like say Back to the Future or Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, but when you reach the end of director Richard Linklater's 164 minute journey, chances are you'll look back and whisper "woah."
Boyhood follows the life of Mason and his sister Samantha, plus his Mother (Patricia Arquette) and Father (Ethan Hawke). Linklater started to shoot the film when Ellar Coltrane, who plays Mason, was six. He finished twelve years later.
Of course nearly all movies play tricks with time. Stories condense or highlight moments. We can jump decades or edit events down to their essence. But the trick here is that there is no trick. Just chapters in a life flickering before our eyes.
There's also no story, at least not in a conventional sense. Boyhood is about how life happens. The inconsequential moments that grow in importance when we look back. There's no flashy signposts, just the odd timely reference: a Sheryl Crow song, reading Harry Potter, a reference to 9/11, the Iraq War and Obama lawn signs. Technology is also a recurring character as we go from the days of call waiting up to FaceTime, but in Linklater's hands it's always just vehicle to connect his characters.
For this study, Linklater sketches out a very modern family. Arquette as the single mother struggling to provide for two growing kids. Ethan Hawke as the free-spirited father. At first he's off in Alaska, then roaring back into their lives in a GTO. He's the weekend warrior, the visits are short, with Dad straining to wring each moment for ultimate potential. But in that effortlessly laid back Hawke way, a constant stream of easy going patter and laughs.
Then there's Mason himself. In picking the star of his cinematic family album Linklater must have only had an inkling of the kind of quietly impressive actor Coltrane would grow into. At first he's a shaggy blond haired boy digging in the dirt. As time passes, we see him stretch a long lanky young man with a sceptical view of the world. Sam, his older sister, is played by Linklater's own daughter Lorelei Linklater and she could be my favourite. She's Mason's natural rival, an expert in teasing, singing Britney Spears songs and questioning parental prerogative with an huffy sigh. Hiding behind those ever present bangs there's an impish personality that imbues many moments.
While Boyhood takes on some of the big questions it never gets weighed down by technique. Like the director's own almost invisible presence, this is a film that never calls attention to itself. If there's a signature Linklater element, it's in the loose and breezy performances framed by the Austin director's careful observation.
Right off the bat Boyhood sets the tone, popping any bubbles of preciousness as Mom lays into young Samantha who's complaining about moving houses by telling her to leave her "horseshit attitude as well." Strong stuff from a parent putting her kid in her place, but this story isn't sugar coated. If anything the structure lays bare the pattern of mistakes: stumbles and lessons learned or not.
Sure there are a couple of odd detours along the way: the rural country parents who give a bible and a gun for a birthday and Richard Robichaux as an over-sharing restaurant manager. But I chalk it up to director Richard Linklater, drawing on his own Texas life.
Through it all we are carried along by Mason. The boy with big eyes and big questions, sleeping on Dad's couch one night asking if magic is real.
The answer is yes. A day at a time.
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