The shear breadth of this film is of mammoth proportions, like a cinematic collection of home videos, Richard Linklater manages to capture the entire childhood of Ellar Coltrane within 165 minutes.
Production on the film took place between 2002 -2013 just after Linklater mainstream success took off with ‘School of Rock’ and as a result the 12 year project, filmed on 35mm, is a deep, insightful coming-of-age drama revolving around the life of seven year old character Mason played by Coltrane. Linklater treats the milestones and banal moments in a young boys life with equal weighting to craft a rounded tale of the modern day divided family. We watch Mason struggle with everything from the absence of his biological father (played by Ethan Hawke) his mother’s own awful taste in alcoholic step fathers, and his first high school romance.
Linklater uses Mason’s physical transformation throughout the film as the only indicator of a time shift, his voice changes along with his haircut and his life presents new problems and dimensions. Linklater does well to swerve the obvious plot choices, and has judged this to perfection. Mason never confronts his father on his absence, instead choosing to maintain a fairly healthy relationship with him where he admires his care-free attitude. It’s only in the later half of the film in Mason’s adolescence that he finds his voice, but it is a confused voice that mirrors his mother’s own, who constantly struggles with men, family, bills and her career.
To make the film, Linklater reconvened the cast which includes Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, as Mason’s divorced parents, and Linklater’s own daughter Lorelei, as his sister ‘Rachel’ or a few days each time, to work on “Boyhood” in between other projects. Ethan Hawke described committing to the experience as an ‘Act of faith’ that he happily embarked on with Linklater. The director’s previous trilogy, “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset” and “Before Midnight,” employs a similar technique, chronicling a relationship (as played by Hawke and Julie Delpy) as it matures over nearly two decades. With “Boyhood,” time is once again the film’s special effect there is no C.G.I. or makeup magic to mimic time’s passing, no clever casting or “Ten Years Later” shortcuts to move the story along. “Time is actually the lead character in the film,” Linklater says. It’s an entirely logical way to make a film in the modern age, with the financial demands on the filmmaking business and on actor’s busy schedules.
It is a completely natural, yet transformative performance from Ellar Coltrane, one that he was perhaps completely unaware he was creating, Linklater said of his performance “There’s this amazing emergence,” “where you start to sense Mason getting his own angle on the world. How a person becomes a unique individual is such a complex thing, and it proves what an amazing actor Ellar is that he was able to convey those subtle changes.”
Linklater has created a modern masterpiece with Boyhood, one that manipulates time in such an innovative way that it boldly stands out from its competition running up to this years award season.
By Will Harper