Boyhood (2014) – Review

Directed by Richard Linklater
Written by Richard Linklater
Starring Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater

Ellar Coltrane must be so glad this has finally come out. Perhaps now, this magical happenstance of a career can finally begin? With only four other acting credits to speak of (which is surprising, given the experience he has already had), this young man can finally now be recognised for his most stunning project to date. Likewise, with Lorelei Linklater, the release of Boyhood is a culmination of an admittedly short career spent acting with little or no recognition thus far. You might go so far as to ask why, in the dozen years this film has taken to be made, have these two actors not made more of an impression on the industry already? The answer to this question is not a pretty one, but it is honest, which is more than you can say for most of the reviews this film has so far received. Still, you know me. “This is a spade,” he says, holding a spade.
“I thought there would be more.”
The quote, quite ironically, above comes from Patricia Arquette’s ‘Mom’, lamenting elements of the life that has been and the bleak future she believes she has as Mason (Coltrane), her youngest child, leaves to go to college. She is left with mixed memories of three husbands and teaching him to ride his bike, amongst other things, as she moves into an apartment that is more in keeping with the space required for a single, middle-aged woman, living alone. Bereft of children now gone and husbands discarded because they just didn’t fit, she may rightly feel sorry for herself, even if she is the only one.
Richard Linklater’s Boyhood  is a huge undertaking, completely unique cinematically and very, very lucky.
You cannot argue that Linklater’s idea here is visionary and actually astounding in its sheer bloody-mindedness. The number of things that could have gone wrong during its intermittent twelve year production is too vast to even contemplate and the fact that it even made it to the screen is frankly, something of a miracle. I mean, anything could have gone wrong. War could have broken out. We could have been invaded by aliens, or fiery brimstone could have fallen from the heavens. Any one of the main players could have died, retired or lost a limb in the time it took to be completed. That cute six-year-old boy could have turned out to be lacking any kind of screen presence, or god forbid, not actually turned out to be much of an actor…
Anyway, you cannot help but wonder if, at least at some point, Linklater didn’t think to himself that this might not work. But with determination of Magnus Magnusson proportions (“I’ve started so I’ll finish”), it seemed inevitable that, assuming that Ethan Hawke didn’t get trampled by a herd of marauding elephants, this film was getting finished, dammit.
Mason (Ellar Coltrane). Boy & Man
Concentrating on the life of Mason from the ages of six to eighteen, Linklater’s plan to film a story using the same actors as they aged in front of us sounded like a compelling, unusual and brave idea. And it most certainly was. You can actually see Patricia Arquette gaining wrinkles, Ethan Hawke’s hip young father turning to a temple-greying, sensible and worldy one, without the need for make-up. The biggest changes, of course, form the story of Mason himself, as he grows from playful innocent to weary university student. In the course of nearly three hours, he has literally aged twelve years before our eyes.
But did it really represent boyhood? Having been a boy myself, albeit quite a while ago, there are elements here that remind you of what it was like to be a certain age. These episodes are sometimes quite familiar and subsequently, very impressive, resounding and almost always on the money. Linklater’s impression of what happened when may not always fit in with your own experiences, but this isn’t about you, so perhaps we should not be too critical in this department. This boy’s life is not extraordinary in any way, certainly no more than the boy himself. Mason does not excel at anything in particular, save a passion for photography for which he shows some promise. He doesn’t turn out to be a jock, or a rock star any more than he is likely to find himself shooting friends from a bell-tower on the last day of high school.And perhaps this insistence to make this story as real (some might say pedestrian) as possible is what has caused many to suggest that this feels like a documentary. It is easy to see why, if you have ever seen any of the ‘Up’ series of documentaries that featured re-visists to individuals in the UK in seven year increments of life, just to see how they were getting on, from the age of seven and onwards into middle-age and beyond. In this respect and armed with this knowledge, Linklater’s actual idea seems somehow less original and unique, if undeniably no less impressive in its production.

And what I’m really keen to get across here, as I am in all of the reviews I publish with requisite care and attention for the benefit of you, beloved reader, is just what kind of experience you will get when you’ve paid your dough to see anything. It’s all very well suggesting that this is a unique project, but does that make it a good one? Is it special purely because it is original, which on reflection and evidence to the contrary, maybe it isn’t? What we should be asking is if this didn’t take twelve years to make and used different actors to represent the younger members of the cast (Hawke and Arquette could get away with it with some make-up; we’ve seen bigger age gaps portrayed by the same people in other projects), then what would we have made of this film, without the admittedly impressive approach and stoic determination to make it with the same young cast? Essentially, what is the film like, regardless of the longevity of the production schedule, for that is nothing more than what this is (spade is a spade, remember?). Does it entertain? Is it worth the money you paid to get in to see it, regardless of the bells and whistles trumpeted about it’s novel and unusual creation?

Well, in short, Linklater’s Boyhood is an excellent film. It’s not as good as many would have you believe, however. If you were handing out stars, you would have to say Linklater’s approach and determination are worthy of many plaudits. If, as mentioned above, you made a movie that didn’t require such tenacity and focus in it’s creation, this would have been a completely unremarkable film with some acting talent that really shone, and some that really didn’t. At times, there are painfully embarrassing scenes with script delivery unwitnessed since watching the first film school production I was ever invited to have a look at. At other times, it is truly impossible to tear yourself away from.

As for whether you are engaged, I forgot where I was watching the film until about half way through, such was Linklater’s hold on my attention. Don’t expect that same level of immersion in the second half, however.

Recommended, undoubtedly, but this is not outstanding, just very good indeed.

 

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