Staff Recommendation - Boyhood

Posted 21 July 2014


When talking about Boyhood, it's unavoidable not to start with its ground-breaking central conceit: for director Richard Linklater's seventeenth feature film, he revisited the same group of actors every year for twelve years, in order to tell one family's story. The end result is that the audience watches Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) grow from six to eighteen years old before their eyes.  Mason's boyhood happens onscreen, in front of us, and we are with him - really­ with him, it feels - as he and his family negotiate divorces, graduations, alcoholism, relationships, and growing older.

The film tackles familiar subject matter: by telling the story of Mason, his older sister Samantha (played by Linklater's daughter Lorelai) and their divorced parents, we are given a standard American coming-of-age tale, complete with children caught between warring parents, fathers (both biological and surrogate) attempting to force their sons to act more manly, frustrated teachers telling the central adolescent that he's talented but a slacker, and so on.

But Linklater depicts these scenes so sensitively and with such a deft touch, slipping easily between humour and high tension, that these familiar situations are given a new lease of life. Linklater's always been great at coaxing powerfully naturalistic performances from his actors, and the cast of Boyhood are so skilled that it gives these well-known cinematic situations new power. The film is so spot-on in capturing the intricacies of inter-family relationships that at times it was more like watching a home movie (an experience just as nostalgic and occasionally painful as that suggests) than an epically envisioned feature film.

Boyhood isn't the first film to keep revisiting the same group of characters over a long period of time. But in the past this has always been done by a director returning to the same characters over a series of movies: Linklater's own Before trilogy (which, like Boyhood, stars Ethan Hawke), Cédric Klapisch's Spanish Apartment trilogy (we showed the trilogy's final instalment, Chinese Puzzle, earlier this summer) and even the mammoth Harry Potter series, which Boyhood sneaks a reference to, all perform this trick.

But Boyhood is different. By telescoping all of this onscreen growing down into the span of a single feature film, so that we see, like one of those sped-up time-lapse videos in a David Attenborough documentary, the characters changing right there before us (Mason shoots up in height; his parents' bodies soften with age, their faces growing lined) gives Boyhood an unprecedented emotional punch.

If you're familiar with some of Linklater's signature films - Slacker, Dazed and Confused, the Before trilogy - you'll know that he often favours plot-light, discursive movies that preference atmosphere over narrative drive. Boyhood's style is similar to this: its long running time affords it a novelistic scope, giving Linklater time to set the tone and build up characterisation, with narrative detours featuring bit characters that pop up once and never again. But the relentless march of time (which is a key preoccupation for Mason's parents) gives Boyhood a structure and pace these previous films lack.

We flick through snapshots of twelve years in this family's life, and the characters that are created are realistic, fully rounded and fully resistant to categorisation as particular "types". Is Mason Snr. (Hawke) a good guy at heart who is trying to do the best he can, or an irresponsible idiot? Is the teenaged Mason Jr. profound or pretentious? Do you leave the film feeling sad or uplifted? Of course, being true-to-life, the answer is that all these answers are right.

As working at the Showroom comes with the incomparable perk of being able to see films for free, I've been in a lot of different groups of staff members going to see a lot of different films. Boyhood is one of the only films I've seen when everyone who went to watch it came out of the cinema saying they loved the movie. I guess you'll have to watch it yourself to see if you agree.

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Sarah Christie

Customer Services AssistantRead more posts by Sarah Christie


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