“You don’t want the bumpers, life doesn’t give you bumpers.”
Heading towards the 2015 Academy Awards, Boyhood is fast becoming the critic’s favourite to clean up. Without a doubt it’s an exceptionally impressive feat of filmmaking, incredibly ambitious and well performed, but it’s not without its wrinkles and imperfections.
Shot over 12 years with the same cast, Boyhood shows the life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he grows from a small 5 year old child with a mop of hair, to a young adult of 18 ready to take on the world – as well as the lives of his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), his mother (Patricia Arquette) and father (Ethan Hawke). Mason’s transformation over the course of the film is fascinating, and Ellar Coltrane’s casting in the lead role proves to be a stroke of genius. Though instantly likeable, he grows beyond this over course of the film (and the years of production) into a fine actor. Director Richard Linklater deserves huge credit for eking such a mature performance from Coltrane, and also from his daughter Lorelei Linklater.
Patricia Arquette as Mason’s mother is the rock of her children’s childhoods, whilst Ethan Hawke gets the more fun role as Mason’s free spirited father, the first of Arquette ‘s terrible choices in men. By the third drunk husband you can’t help but doubt her decision making skills, but admire her nonetheless, and so is the magic of Boyhood. The characters are imperfect, but beautifully painted, fully rounded people, who are easy to care for. The film handles the life of its characters in a matter of fact manner, with marriages, divorces, growth spurts, birthdays and girlfriends coming and going at a rate of knots, without it ever feeling rushed. A character late in the film says to Mason, “You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment? I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around, you know, like the moment seizes us”. Like life, Boyhood seizes its audience and takes you from fleeting moment to fleeting moment, as we see snippets of the character’s lives.
Whilst the ride is exhilarating, the very nature of the film means that supporting characters drop in and out regularly, often with unresolved threads, most jarringly of all being Mason’s sister Samantha, whose story doesn’t really have any sort of significant closure – at least in the traditional filmic sense – but Boyhood is certainly non traditional in many ways, and it’s almost fitting that she should drift out of the picture as Mason moves on to university. This is Mason’s film and it’s his coming of age journey that we follow through thick and thin. His family may be constants, with his mother’s story intertwining with his own most frequently, but outside of his family people will come and go, as is life. The large supporting cast outside of the family are a mixed bunch in terms of performances, and sometimes it’s for the best that they don’t stick around, but fortunately the four key cast members Coltrane, Linklater, Hawke and Arquette are all impeccable.
Boyhood is a moving time capsule of a film that captures the most significant years of childhood, with a multitude of little moments, pop culture markers and references building a wonderful portrayal of youth. It’s hugely ambitious, masterfully executed and beautifully heartwarming – certainly complex in the making, but simple in its message: Life is to be lived and loved, warts and all.
Ellar Coltrane puts in an exceptional performance in his debut film Boyhood, a unique and brilliant take on the coming of age tale.
Rating (out of 5):