Growing up, and the awkward and confusing stages of puberty and teenage life that come with that, have been well documented in film. I even picked out my top ten growing up films last year when I turned 18. All the typical aspects of this genre feature in this film from Richard Linklater, but there is something spectacularly and wonderfully different about it. 12 years in the making, and with the same cast the whole way through, Boyhood focuses on the life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), from the time he is six to the time he is 18. Using the same cast throughout, we see the actors (including Lorelei Linklater as Mason’s older sister Samantha) as well as the characters grow from young children with a sparkling new outlook on life, to teenagers and adults, more jaded and aware of the world as each year approaches. Watching his hard working mum (Patricia Arquette) move from crummy boyfriend to even crummier husband and hanging out with his once estranged dad (Ethan Hawke), Mason is our guide in these little snapshots of life, made as short films, created every year.
The teenage experience is often sidelined, however, for more human and less ‘movie’ moments. Instead of seeing Mason and his awkward childhood girlfriend, we see him talk to his dad about how they have nothing in common. We don’t see his mum getting married, we see Mason’s confusion as she flirts with her college professor. By presenting life in this way, Linklater shows us the moments that are more important in defining a person are not those that the rest of Hollywood might have us believe so. Coming of age is not an experience found in your first kiss or your first drink. It is instead in the impact of these things, in coming home to your parents drunk, in your dad telling you about contraception whilst you wince.
The cast are impeccable from start to finish, a pretty impressive feat considering Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater were only 7 when filming started. As the years pass and the characters grow and change Linklater deftly tells us what has happened in the intermittent time since we have been apart from these characters, calling upon us to be smart. This is a film with proper storytelling, that does not dumb down what it has to say, and with just over a three hour run time, not a moment is wasted, as we hurtle through milestone after milestone. Parts of Mason’s screen time go by with him saying little, as is often the trope of teenagers. But the skill of both Linklater and Coltrane in projecting this onto the screen is wonderfully done, and there is never any doubt about Mason’s thoughts or feelings.
Something as wide-spanning as this could have easily become distant or overly artsy. But it is instead incredibly real and feels like guerilla film making, capturing the true moments of life, as a documentary maker might capture nature. What Linklater gives us in this film, is exactly what is promised. Boyhood, documented, filmed, wrapped up, sent to our screens and so expertly put together that we leave feeling that we too have experienced it, have watched this child grow from a boy to a man, watch his world evolve around him as he too grows and changes and yet remains, in some inexplicable way, the same little boy staring at the clouds.
It’s so exciting that a film like this, with truth and beauty imbibed in its bones from start to finish is playing in cinemas. In a world of superheroes and CG a film like this is a breath of fresh air, and I don’t think there will ever be anything quite like it again.
If you’re leaving home soon, see this film. If you are or ever have been a teenager, see this film. If you’re the parent of a teenager, see this film. See this film. It is utterly, utterly magnificent.