Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke
Directed by: Richard Linklater (“Before Midnight”)
Written by: Richard Linklater (“Before Midnight”)
On paper, the idea of producing a film with the goal of shooting it over 12 years, following a child actor as he ages and telling the story of a boy’s growth from kindergarten to high school graduation might sound crazy, or at the very least daunting and difficult. In fact, it might even be considered the ultimate creative risk, in a world where people discuss and value risk-taking in Hollywood. Leave it to Austinite Richard Linklater (“Before Midnight,” “Bernie”) to not only attempt this project, but to produce such stunning results.
It is difficult to pin down a proper synopsis for “Boyhood,” as it is more of a longitudinal character study than anything else. That isn’t to say it is without plot. While people might assume the film is solely about the process of growing up, it is far more than that. The film is at its most fascinating when it explores family dynamics, especially with how parents and children deal with divorce and newly blended families. The film centers on Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, who began filming when he was seven years old.
In the scenes or vignettes throughout the film, we see Coltrane slowly age and encounter new issues and experiences as he begins to mature. The growth is also seen in Coltrane’s talent. Audiences will get the opportunity to literally see an actor grow before their eyes. As his relationships with his parents become more nuanced, so does his performance and by the end of the film Coltrane is a veteran, commanding the screen with a wealth of personality.
The film also follows veteran actors such as Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke and their characters growth through the course of 12 years. Hawke’s character is particularly fun to watch as he evolves from the young, cool dad into a mature middle-aged adult. There are so many details that Linklater brings to the table in “Boyhood,” none better than an incredibly smart use of music from the time period the film was shot to clue the audience in on the year. This serves as a gentle reminder that the film was shot over more than a decade without being aggressive about it.
What Linklater pulls off in “Boyhood” is nothing short of astonishing and it is easily one of the most ambitious films I’ve ever seen. It is a fascinating meditation on growing up and is likely to strike a nerve with many audience members. Funny, moving, and oozing with personality, “Boyhood” is a film that is incredible beyond just its technical and logistical feats. It feels more like an experience and an epic journey as it instantly becomes a hallmark coming-of-age film. While there are a thousand reasons why “Boyhood” shouldn’t work, it excels in myriad ways.