[ Director: Richard Linklater; Screenwriter: Richard Linklater; Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater; Running time: 166 minutes; Certification: 15 ]
People say it’s impossible to make a truly unique film these days. Over a century of cinema has seemingly used up all the resources, “there are no new stories to tell” is what they’ll say. But these people are clearly forgetting about Richard Linklater. While it’s true that Boyhood doesn’t tread particularly new ground in terms of story, ideas or themes (we’ve seen the coming-of-age drama more times than you can shake a stick at), it does tread all sorts of new ground is in the way it tells that story. In fact, it pretty much builds a whole new road system. Shot in 39 days over the course of 12 years, Boyhood, truly, is one of the most ambitious, unique and inspiringly beautiful films the world has ever seen.
The very idea sounds like a logistical nightmare. How on earth do you sustain a production over 12 years, returning with the same cast to the same story only a few days at a time, without the end result being a convoluted disaster? How do you plan and schedule something like that? Well, that’s for Linklater to know and us to enjoy. For him to not only conceive this idea, but actually commit to it and come out the other end with a piece of work like this is extraordinary – but what is there to really say about such a film? One that lacks any great dramatic conflict, that lacks any real narrative, that lacks any obvious structure, set-up or resolution? It’s easy to draw comparisons to something like Inside Llewyn Davis, a film which, in true Coen Brothers style, had no clear beginning, middle or end; it was simply brief look into a few days of a struggling musician’s life. Boyhood is set up in a similar way, so it’s not for us to get lost in a narrative or find characters to root for; rather, we’re only taking a peek through the window of a boy’s often tumultuous but ultimately “normal” life.
It’s that genuineness of touch that makes the film so easy to relate to. As Mason goes through pre-school, high school and then college, with all the personal trials and tribulations along the way, each of us is bound to find a piece of ourselves, be that in a relationship, friendship or starting at a new school. From a personal viewpoint, I grew up in roughly the same generation so many of the culture references, from posters on bedroom walls to the popular music of the time, resonate with me deeply. Combined with the real growth of the characters and general evolution of society, we find a completely unprecedented level of realism in the coming-of-age tale. As the film moves through Mason’s life, we genuinely believe he’s gone through these big transformations – because he has. Each time he has really aged and matured a few years, rather than simply acted the part. We’ve never had such a honest look into adolescence, besides what we went through ourselves. There’s nothing else like it.
The performances are excellent across the board. Perhaps unsurprising, but particularly impressive when you consider the unconventional nature of the production. Ellar Coltrane (Mason) revealed in a recent interview how he didn’t even have a script when he auditioned – because there wasn’t one – and Linklater was rather just looking for young actors who he felt had the correct attitude and distinctions. Put simply, Boyhood is an extraordinary film in the most unexpected ways. Linklater has perhaps made more emotionally resonant films in the past, and perhaps he will in the future, but nothing quite hits home as hard as this, or touches something so deep. It’s joyful, inspiring and profound in equal measure, and, surely, his masterpiece.