Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Patricia Arquette. Ellar Coltrane. Lorelei Linklater. Ethan Hawke.
Run-Time: 166 mins
Boyhood, the film that my friend mistakenly told me was called Manhood at first, much to my childish amusement. Luckily the film is much more mature than the title suggests and than my apparently disappointing sense of humour. The film follows 12 years of Mason Jr (Coltrane) who starts out as a young boy and over the course of time and the movie becomes a young man. Ok well that’s pretty much how life traditionally works, so this sounds fairly uneventful and possibly pretentious, the catch is however that the movie itself is filmed over 12 years (not continuously thank the heavens!) using the same cast. This is not the first time of course, for example the soul crushing brutality that is the morbid Blue Valentine utilised this technique for similar effect. What sets Boyhood apart however are the little things and at around 2 hours and 46 minutes there are plenty of little things.
The general tale of Boyhood is learning how to become a man as the many men in his life fail him, his mother Olivia (Arquette) and sister Samantha (Linklater) in every facet of life. Again this sounds like the college project of a father-hating, metal loving, film student and I was not expecting greatness from this film, but instead I was looking forward to some equally valued cinema sleep. I am glad to say, however, that this film is a testament that artistic ideas and heartfelt notions can go hand in hand, as the film had me involved and even enthralled for most of the duration. Granted this film has it’s faults and the length can feel like one, (films approaching three hours are almost contractually obliged to include a Hobbit or two now in order to remain entertaining) and this film does struggle in places.
The cast is solid, and most impressively so for Mason Jnr. and his sister who are a massive investment as they could begin the film as child starlets, yet could grow into Keanu Reeves on a bad, extra emotionless day with you powerless to change (especially the directors daughter!). Ethan Hawke is fantastic as the immature, thoughtless yet well meaning and loveable Dad Mason Sr and while Patricia Arquette isn’t life changing she is at least sympathy-inducing as the weary mother. Sadly in the later scenes Mason Jnr. does develop the personality of a depressed, bankrupt trout with a voice that could make Alan Rickman sound the energetic optimistic. This may suit some of the teenage scenes but made them feel much more laboured with his wannabe poetic, pop psychology filled whining as I longed to reach through the screen and slap the negativity from his voice…. Aside from this though, all good!
The soundtrack is predictably songs from each era that the film passes through but the choices are well made, dedicated to invoking your own memories instead of always reflecting what is happening in the scene. This is great for making you feel this is a story that is happening in the world and time that you existed in and mingles memories with your own memory attached to the tunes used.
Boyhood’s greatest feat is by far it’s writing which, as an almost 3 hour artistic project, it would have to be. As shown in the Before trilogy Linklater is the master of believable, casual dialogue and characters purely just spending time together, this may be his greatest effort on that. In the before films there were lengthy scenes of thoughtful dialogue whereas here there are many short, often unconnected scenes with throwaway lines and sometimes no context. Fantastic and carefully crafted though, this makes boyhood less of a story and more of an experience in someone’s life.
The short speedy scenes are well used, choosing the nuance moments pass you by but define relationships. The memories that seem so trivial that you leave them behind but if someone reminds you or you haphazardly remember, these bring on the strongest emotions. Riding your bike as a kid, being bullied at school for the rubbish haircut, your dad taking you to the game you don’t care about, the first time you meet someone and when you look back you can’t believe you saw them that way, painful break ups or your first boss worryingly committed to the job. Also although time jumps the characters still develop well as instead of missing people change you are shown many, short subtle ways in which their dark sides begin to creep In as they morph into the broken characters we end up left with. If anything these short, sharp steps make the changes in character over time more believable and sinister. Look out for husband number 2 and prepare for the steady course of hatred through your veins!
There are some great hidden and blatant connections through the film that do make you want to watch it again but more than that is how you begin to see how events craft into the man he’s becoming for better and worse, I am very much looking forward to viewing the film already knowing how turns out and watching for the triggers even more closely. No scene feels pointless as you are pulled in to a lifetime of purely surviving the people he meets and grabbing any joy out of events if and when he can.
The dialogue is funny but not contrived even deliberately awkward in places and brutally sad and genuine as well, Ethan Hawke’s contraception talk is every parent and child’s equal nightmare yet a film stealing scene. Characters are built up and discarded fearlessly, sleazy but hilarious brother is an instant hit late on in the film and any other time would have been a staple banter machine from the start. Yet he and the film are all the better for his brief couple of scenes. People come and go but when they are around they are what you have.
With a film this long in the making seems understandably petrified we will miss the point and a couple of the lines later bludgeon it home with all the discretion and subtlety of Brian Blessed after stubbing his toe. The most aggressive of these lines is the mother dealing with her children growing up by saying she was ready for ‘the milestones in life’ but how it’s all ‘just a series of moments’. Ouch, message received and pummeled directly into the brain! Yet by far the best way it’s delivered is by love of photography and capturing the moments as such. He is criticised for his daydream attitude of escapism by his photography teacher, and seeing his childhood you know why. Also the heart-aching scene of him winning a photography award with frozen memories of a painful ex. The most powerful example is set after a series of low moments, where he stops to photograph random objects. The happy, serene music kicks in and the odd, calm smile makes him look more like the boy you knew before, he’s most at peace when he captures the things and the times that everyone else misses.
The Verdict- Life is a journey where the people and events are all important whether good, bad or in between, this point has been made before and will be made again. It may be executed better or worse than it is in Boyhood but will it be carried out with as much ambition, care and honesty? I doubt it, but I’m sure Linklater would advise me that time will tell.