So far this year I have struggled to find a film that I am sure will be chosen as a nominee for the Academy Award for Best Picture. But I think I have found it with this narrative epic from Richard Linklater. Without a doubt this is the most ambitious project in recent cinema history, certainly of the past decade. In 2001 Linklater conceived a rather impractical idea of directing a film that would require his devotion for twelve long years. It would be the story of a parent-child relationship that rather than simply placing different actors of different ages as that boy, he would use the same cast and watch them grow up and film those experiences in a dramatized for to the scenario he had devised.
To say that this is unique in scope would be an understatement, true we have watched child actors grow up on-screen with the Harry Potter franchise, but that project consisted of eight films. This project on the other hand would result in just one film. Already there are high expectations for this film then, is it really possible for Boyhood to be worth all of that production trouble? Where would you find actors committed enough to stay with the project, and how you would guarantee that their childhood charm would translate to good acting as they become young adults? As well as this when Linklater began this arduous task he still wasn’t sure how the story would end, each section of the script was written over the same time period at which the film was shot, with some scenes being completed just the night before shooting them.
This monumental gamble has paid off in so many ways, becoming the best film so far this year and will almost certainly be regarded as the director’s masterpiece. The long-time collaborator starring as the main character is Ellar Coltrane as a six year old child of divorced parents Mason (Ethan Hawke) and Olivia (Patricia Arquette). This is an excellent casting decision to say the least, maybe it’s because Coltrane’s own personality is used as an element when writing for Mason Jr, but whatever the reason his transformation from a cheery and whimsical child to a mature and individual young man is utterly compelling and demonstrates a true talent. By the end of the film he develops into an actor of amazing charisma and memorability.
Mason Jr and his sister Samantha face issues throughout their journey through childhood that every child faces, everything from sibling rivalry to secret dens and their vague hope that their parents will get back together is explored in a funny, wise, tender and completely heart-warming way. Their parents meanwhile have their own struggles that are not left out of the story, Linklater obviously knows how to translate the struggles of adults just as much as he does for children. Amid all of the side stories in the film, life goes on for this broken family. It’s the modern day equivalent of Forrest Gump in many ways, just as Tom Hanks was part of key historical events, in this we witness events from the past decade, Obama’s victory, the I-Pod launch, even discussions of future Star Wars films between a father and son (even more amazingly is the fact that the particular scene was filmed BEFORE the shocking announcement in May 2013, impressive isn’t it).
It is difficult to believe that Linklater was writing these scenes with no clear end in sight, just continue to plough through the year’s one small step at a time. In one sense you can think of the scenes as being connected only by the same characters, but if you look deeper you realise that everything from awkward educational conversations between parent and child about sex to brushes with alcohol and an ever expanding family are all connected. It is obvious that each one of them leaves their mark on young Mason to form his eventual personality, as events of everyone’s childhood influences their adulthood more than any other part of their lives.
The characters are brilliantly layered and believable, they’re not perfect but they’re still likable. Linklater has an amazing ability to make the audience like his characters because of their flaws, it is yet another perfect example of how brilliant a writer he is. A fine ensemble of actors come together to bring this writing to life, it really feels like they have evolved and matured in a very similar fashion to the people they portray. Every single performance is completely engaging, combined with the fantastic director this film makes life seem so much fun while regrettably stained with sadness and bitterness.
The entire tone of the film expertly changes in maturity as its central character matures and grows up. Contrary to the title you will enjoy this film even if you’re not a boy, you just have to have been a child (I think that applies to most people). I know this has been quite a long review, like the production of this film, but honestly this is one of the best films I have seen from the 21st century. Without losing any humanity or emotional depth, Boyhood is simply the story of life.