Richard Linklater's Boyhood is the perfect cinematic experiment. Linklater writes and directs a glimpse into a series of essential signposts of a young man's life from the age of five to eighteen. However, unlike any film ever made, Ellar Coltrane's Mason and his entire family (Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and Lorelei Linklater) participated in the production for a thirteen year period to legitimately age before our eyes.
There's something disarming about seeing memories unfold before you. It seems to alter your reception so that there’s an organic absorption of this narrative that's never been attempted before. Cinematically we've become accustomed to expecting the trickery of ageing make-up or of interchangeable performers to denote the passing of time. Having the same actors, every step of this journey, in this finite amount of time feels like it deceives your mind and enhances your impression and intimacy with the characters. And it's not just Mason that you feel dialed into, the peripheral core characters register so much more than the tapestry of support characters in dramatic pieces. That's the fundamental genius in Linklater's audacity and passion for the necessity to get an enduring commitment from the performers in this tale. In terms of his conception, scheduling and igniting the sustained motivation in his players to sign on for this revolving check-in of a picture, one can only stand back and admire.
Aesthetically, for the most part, we're locked into Mason's perspective. Linklater doesn't attempt to manipulate the audience with a subjective lens that imposes feelings on this quiet spoken boy; instead there's a passive, sponge like quality to its unobtrusive gate that dials you even further into the characters, situations and formative moments.
The script is wonderfully paced, and doesn't feel the need to always drop the audience into an action-packed milestone like beginning a new year at Hogwarts in the Potter films. Sometimes we're in an awkward adolescent period that doesn't pump the breaks on the momentum of this epic but gives you pause to reflect upon the directionless moments in your own life.
As far as production design, there's probably a more prescient time capsule of the last two decades of American youth fashion, zeitgeist pop culture events and music than the illustration of the different stages of Mason's life. Whether it's watching Mason attend the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; or he and friends arguing whose better in Star Wars, or being made to campaign for Obama with his sister Samantha (Linklater), it's amazing to see the evolution of ideas and concepts growing inside him. The score too, charting this decade (and a bit) is literally the soundtrack to Mason and Coltrane's life. Not since Dazed and Confused has Linklater cherry picked such a sublime sonic accompaniment.
Finally, it’s Coltrane’s non-performance that anchors and authenticates the entire film. Linklater silos his involvement for maximum effect. It’s only as he starts to get into the depths of his adolescence that you start to feel like he’s really aware of ‘performing’ the character. Hawke and Arquette both deliver what start out as large overt performances, attempting to keep the attention of their on screen kids, gradually gaining nuance and complexity as their children gain proficiency in reacting.
Linklater and Coltrane portray being a boy with both glorious and downright uncomfortable authenticity. Boyhood is a one of a kind experience.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Boyhood is screening as part of the Syndey Film Festival Official Competition on:
Fri 6 Jun 8:30 PM State Theatre & Sat 7 Jun 11:30 AM State Theatre
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and Lorelei Linklater