When it comes to long-term projects which are striking in both their ambition and simplicity, Richard Linklater (who also directed the Before Sunrise franchise) has certainly made a name for himself. I’ve been trying to come up with a link – later joke about how the films link to later… but it’s clumsy, so suggestions on a postcard please!
Boyhood, Linklater’s most recent release, has been filmed over twelve years following the fictionalised story of Mason, a 5 year old boy, and his childhood in the early noughties through to college in the present day. Using the same cast throughout the filming period, and allowing the actors to contribute to the dialogue and direction of the film, means that watching it is like being a very nosy and emotionally-invested neighbour, who for some reason is very dedicated to following the family through their numerous flits from house to house.
While there seems little to the plot as a whole in terms of tension-climax-fallout, the lengthy viewing experience is gripping and deceptively moving. Each incident and relationship has no motive other than to portray a truthful picture of how families develop over time. There is no ‘this is what it’s really about’ only the fact that growing up really is what it’s all about, and seeing people do that at different stages in their lives is a fascinating watch. Alongside the voyeuristic side of the audience role comes a parental one- at the end you are left wondering how everyone grew up so fast and how the dramas of forty minutes ago seem woven deep into distant family history.
The film’s intimacy is mostly brought about by the skill of the adult cast and the counterpoint openness of the growing young cast. It is difficult not to feel some sense of loss when Ellar Coltrane (who plays Mason) turns from a cute blond child to a disengaged tween hiding behind messy hair and YouTube videos, only emerging to utter the kind of pretentious sentiments that would win any 17 year old’s heart. Likewise, as the film goes on there is disappointingly no encore of Mason’s sister singing ‘…Baby One More Time’, but I guess even when the director is your dad there are some things that no self-respecting young actress will do over the age of 9. Lorelei Linklater balances the antagonistic/ supportive sibling role perfectly, her shining moment is perhaps her awkward dismay at their father (Ethan Hawke) trying to talk to her about the importance of safe sex while they eat dinner at a bowling alley. Hawke and Patricia Arquette (who plays the children’s mother) balance their occupation with their family roles, having their characters constantly undermine the stereotypical “single mom and weekend dad” that they could so easily have become.
Human element, together with a contemporary soundtrack and set of pop culture elements, sees Boyhood become a beautiful album of snapshots and incisive explorations of family life which is more than simply a time capsule, but alive and relatable.