Thursday 18 January 2018

Boyhood (15A) - 'a unique and quietly breathtaking masterpiece'

Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood
Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood

Doug Whelan

Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Elijah Smith, Lorelei Linklater


Anyone familiar with the works of director Richard Linklater will know that much of his career has been concerned with chronicling what it means to be young in America. Slacker (1991) and Dazed & Confused (1993) examined the youth of Austin, Texas, in the 1990s and 1970s respectively, while with the Before trilogy (1995, 2004, 2013) Linklater visited and revisited a couple during three distinct and evolving periods in their life together, nine years apart.

With Boyhood, Linklater has in a way combined these two visions for statement filmmaking by patiently shooting his film in increments between 2002 and 2013. The result is a unique and quietly breathtaking masterpiece.

Like Linklater's other best known films, Boyhood doesn't really feature a plot to speak of. The film follows Mason Jr, played by Ellar Coltrane, from the age of six to 18 as he figures his way through life. Most of the film is concerned with his relationship with divorced parents (Patricia Arquette and Linklater regular Ethan Hawke) and sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and is divided into episodic chapters.

Mason's relationship with his parents provides most of the narrative structure, but the magic of Boyhood isn't with the beginning, middle and end. Like life itself, the film is little more than a long series of moments that come together to make the characters who they are. Linklater has said that the entire cast had input into the script as they were shooting, so how it would end, so to speak, was of little concern to anyone during the entire process and it shows.

It's not about how it will end, it's about the moment you're in right now that matters. "It's always right now," says dad, Mason Sr, during one of his many pep talks with Mason Jr, and that's the message of the film. In fact, whenever Ethan Hawke is on screen is when the film is most alive, as the flighty but loving father, a weed-smoking lefty when we first meet him, who becomes a committed family man over the years fully aware of the fact that he "used to be cool."

The meandering nature of Boyhood may not be for everyone, but it's a unique and emotionally affecting film with a huge heart. The affectation grows with the characters, whereby one thinks on occasion, what's the point of this?, only moments later to remember that the point in life is something that just happens. It's certain to make plenty of end-of-year lists. Now, how about a quasi-sequel, Girlhood? Make it happen, Richard.

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