Tuesday, 2 September 2014


Universal Pictures

Richard Linklater would appear to be a filmmaker preoccupied with time. In his Before trilogy, he followed a couple -- Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) -- over the course of 20 years; revisiting them every nine years to see where they've been, where they are, and where they're headed.

That series culminated in 2013's Before Midnight -- and a tour de force performance by Delpy -- and was an extremely satisfying filmic journey and arguably one of the best trilogies in cinema.

And now in an even bolder cinema experiment, writer-director Linklater has set out to capture a life on film: following young Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from age six to 18, from boyhood to his first day of college. The ambitious conceit being that Mason isn't played by three different actors, as would happen in a typical coming of age film, but the one kid; captured on film every year for 12 years: Linklater and his cast gathering for a few days (39 in total) a year, every year over the time period.

Mason (and Coltrane, who has just turned 20) literally grows up before our eyes. There are no title cards to tell us what year it is (the film begins in 2000) or how old Mason is, but the ebb and flow of time is evident in the changing haircuts, his increasing height and his thinning out as Mason sheds his puppy fat and grows into a slim, long-limbed adolescent.

But it's not just Mason's journey we follow. His mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), who raises him and his older sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director's daughter), is integral to the story, not just as the primary caregiver (she's separated from their dad, Mason Snr., Ethan Hawke) but as a woman trying to better herself (returning to college) and in turn provide a better life for her kids.

That involves some less than perfect marriages, for even someone studying, and eventually teaching psychology can repeat the same mistakes, over and over. But to err is human, and Boyhood is as much a coming of age story as it is a testament to single motherhood.

Essentially about nothing and everything, the magic of Linklater's experiment is just how much we are invested in these peoples' lives. Not just Mason's but his mum's (Arquette is the film's MVP), his dad's (Hawke, effortlessly impressive), sister and friends. People come and go as Mason and his family move homes, towns, and eventually away from each other.

That's life, and its milestones, big and small, are captured in all their banality without any fanfare or concocted melodrama. It may not require its 165-minute run time but your patience will be rewarded: you won't begrudge a second spent in the company of this family and in this boy's life.

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