Boyhood

Life, as they say, is in the little details. Scrawling graffiti on the wall, poring over a lingerie catalogue, standing up to the bully in the school bathroom, going camping with dad, drinking beer for the first time. You get the drift. Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater, is all about the drift. This is a unique, terrific, intuitive movie about growing up; a coming-of-age film with a relaxed naturalism that you’ve literally never seen before.
 
Shot over a few weeks each year from 2002 to 2013 with the same principal cast, Boyhood follows the journey of Texan kid Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from a wide-eyed moppet to a sensitive young teenager entering college. Like some of the director’s best films – Slacker, Dazed and Confused, the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy – there isn’t much by way of plot in Boyhood. Mason and his sister Samantha (played by Linklater’s daughter Lorelai) are raised by their mother (Patricia Arquette), while their largely absentee father (Ethan Hawke) checks in and out of their lives.
 
The film is little more than a long series of moments that come together to make the characters who they are. As Mason goes from 6 to 18, we witness a whirlwind of familiar experiences – parental discord, sibling rivalry, first love, even heartbreak – that shape him into the man he is to become. Seemingly ordinary moments feel recognizable as the film connects with our own experiences. This is Mason’s life we’re watching, but it could easily be our own.
 
Linklater cleverly sprinkles a bunch of pop cultural references into everyday conversations to give us a sense of passing time. Mason, who we once see dressed up in a Harry Potter costume going to a midnight book launch, has turned into a Star Wars nut a few years later. Significant events like the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, and Obama’s first presidential campaign are also referred to, although fleetingly.
 
Where the film truly succeeds, is in making us forget that we’re watching a film. We’re seldom aware of Linklater’s camera, which, as it turns out, is everywhere…catching the tiniest and most insignificant moments and presenting them in all their honest glory. Mason’s simmering anger over losing his long hair is palpable as he sits there in the barber’s chair, his cheeks flushed, his eyes welling up.
 
It’s the film’s 165-minute running time that is the only indulgence here. Linklater, evidently disregarding the popular mantra “Kill Your Darlings”, appears too attached to the material to pare it down to a more ‘friendly’ length. Even those who love the film will likely agree that it plods on in its final act, making you wish you’d invested in recliner seats.
 
Nevertheless, Linklater’s writing is warm and insightful and the cast uniformly excellent, led by Coltrane who grows in confidence as an actor without ever compromising the film’s naturalism. The real scene-stealer though is Arquette, riveting as the struggling single mother with a poor taste in men, determined to make a better life for her kids.
 
Boyhood then is a true gem, and a bold, brave experiment that’s as intimate as it is expansive. It’s an emotionally affecting film with a big beating heart, and Linklater shows us that indeed life is in the little details. I’m going with four out of five. Don’t miss it.

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