‘What do you want to be, Mason? What do you want to do?’ This is the poignant question asked of Linklater’s protagonist in his passion project, ‘Boyhood’, and one which very quickly proves itself as the thrust of the story’s ‘raison d’etre’. Filmed over the course of 12 years, the film gives us a subtle, real, varied, engaging and all round brilliant recount of a young boy’s journey to adulthood, quietly reminding us along the way that not only should we all take pleasure in life’s complexity, but also that seeing beauty in the smaller moments is an admirable skill. There are clear echoes of Terence Malick’s ‘Tree of Life’ in here – albeit with a muted filter added, and notably fewer dinosaurs – which helps make ‘Boyhood’ not only the film of the summer, but arguably the best of 2014.
‘Boyhood’ was filmed in Houston, Austin (the first time Linklater has filmed in his adopted home base since 2004’s ‘A Scanner Darkly’), the college town of San Marcos and rite-of-passage site Big Bend National Park, all of which serve as the backdrop to the growth of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), initially a wide-eyed suburban boy who fights with his sister, giggles over women’s underwear catalogues with his friends and is confused by his mother’s relationships, before he grows into a teenager with hair like a member of The Stokes, a fast developing creative talent, and a penchant for telling his ‘step dads’ what he really thinks of them.
A significant contributor to the beauty of this film is the way it quietly opens up a whole new genre of film making, which sits between documentary and biopic. The film is not based on Coltrane’s life, but it was certainly shaped and guided by it. In an interview with Jimmy Fallon, Coltrane revealed that the acne he had on screen was real. Linklater apparently made a real point of not covering it up, nor did he stop Coltrane from piercing his ear, changing his hair, or from making any other questionable appearance decisions teenagers so often make. Similarly, the script for the film was a wholly movable and flexible piece of work, malleable to the casts lives and the cultural context of the filming period. After all, Coltrane was cast for the part at just age six – and as he said in the same Fallon interview, 12 years is an unfathomable length of time even at age 19, let alone at six.
Watching this film is relaxing, exhilarating, fulfilling and wonderfully nostalgic. You’re gently nudged round a full spectrum of emotions, but just as is the case with ‘real life’, of course different moments will resonate with different people. Ethan Hawke (who plays dad), Patricia Arquette (mum) and Lorelei Linklater (the sister – and Linklater’s daughter) all give exceptional performances, each changing and pulsing as the years go on, and each representing a very different but equally important pieces of Mason’s story. Their family dynamic is sometimes mundane, sometimes worrying, but always believable. ‘This is the worst day of my life’, says Mason’s mum the day he is leaving for college. Not only do you wholly believe her character when she says this, you can’t help but think that Arquette is also saddened herself at this point that the 12 years of filming is coming to a close.
When asked in a recent interview if he’s done other films besides ‘Boyhood’ , Coltrane said ‘nope, this is about it’. If his agent’s phone isn’t now ringing off the hook, the film industry should spend the next 12 years taking a good long look at itself in the mirror.
5 out of 5
A perfect film in every way.