It’s almost impossible to convey in words just how perfect a piece of cinema Richard Linklater’s Boyhood truly is, largely because it feels so much more true to life than the medium allows.
When we first meet Mason, the boy of the title, he’s played with a calming openness by then six-year-old Ellar Coltrane. What’s remarkable about this quietly operatic celebration of a boy’s journey into manhood is that Mason, as he grows into a college-ready 18-year-old, isn’t played by a series of increasingly older actors. Part of the majesty of what Linklater has achieved here is that he literally called back Coltrane and his co-stars to film a week’s worth of new material annually over the course of 12 years. This approach to film is, in itself, a remarkable achievement.
The structure has been utilised before in Michael Apted’s Up series, but this is a fictional, not documentary take, though that does not sacrifice it’s thrillingly ordinary sense of realism. Perhaps most incredible is that Linklater, the writer/director famed for the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy, also managed to get his regular muse Ethan Hawke on board as Mason’s shambolic, muso father who cruises in intermittently in his seriously cool ride and a fantastically performance by Patricia Arquette as his ex-wife, raising the kids largely single-handedly while trying to achieve her own career ambitions, despite the varying abuses of a series of unsuitable partners. Hers is perhaps the most heart breaking and warming arc.
Part of the beauty of Boyhood is that its title is slightly misleading. This is really a glorious paean to family. Linklater’s own daughter Lorelei plays Mason’s older sister Samantha, and while she had some reservations about continuing the project as she hit her teens (her father refused to kill her off, apparently) any trace of reluctance onscreen blends seamlessly into the distant moodiness of college year rebellion. The grudgingly loving bond between Sam and her brother is perfectly captured by both fine young actors.
Boyhood is nothing short of a masterpiece, a soaring elegy to life itself that, despite its three-hour runtime and very little in the way of actual plot, remains at all times riveting and, almost imperceptibly, guides you on a tumultuous emotional ride through the very personal highs and lows of existence. A truly beautiful experience, this is an example of experimental cinema at its finest while remaining resolutely accessible, recognisable to us all, a vision of time spent with each other. One of the finest films I have ever seen, and one that left me crying for sheer joy as I left the cinema.