When I arrived at Jackson Square for the Sunday afternoon screening of Richard Linklater's Boyhood, I noticed the average age of cinema-goers to be around 105. Jokes aside, the audience was full of mature people and for good reason; impatient adolescents wouldn’t have been able to sit through the almost three-hour film despite how much the film pulls from their own lives.
As a fan of Richard Linklater’s prior work with Ethan Hawke on the Before series and having read the glowing reviews for Boyhood, I knew to expect a compelling film but I was in no way prepared for the amount that it would resonate with me.
The film was shot over 12 years with the same actors resuming their roles for one intense week of filming each year. Ellar Coltrane takes up the titular role as Mason Evans Jr., with Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei, playing Mason's sister, Samantha. The pair is watched over by their mother, Olivia, played exquisitely by Patricia Arquette, and on occasion by their absentee father, Mason Sr., played by Hawke.
Always an experimental director, Linklater has succeeded in crafting the magnum opus that he will be remembered for. While Dazed and Confused and School of Rock are masterpieces in their own right, Boyhood is Proustian in scope and subject matter with Linklater adopting a much more somber tone in looking at the tumultuous nature of growing up in a broken home.
Unlike any of the predominantly improvised Before movies starring Hawke and Julie Delpy, Boyhood is scripted but there is an air of spontaneity to the delivery of the snappy dialogue which alone makes one want to both laugh and cry in equal measure. Much of that could be due to the fact that Linklater pieced the script together as he went along and didn’t share it in its entirety with the cast, instead electing to only give them their respective lines.
The chemistry between the two children and with their mother is impressive form the start and only gets better with time.
While familial tension and growing up has always had a place in films, it isn't done right very often. On one end of the spectrum, it can be dealt with too lightly, like in Cheaper By The Dozen. On the other, it can be grimly presented in a heavy-handed way, like in Terrence Malick's very good but self-serious Tree of Life.
Boyhood succeeds in presenting both sides of the coin. The slew of drunken deadbeat guys the mother attracts while she works her way through a masters degree can weigh you down, especially if your experience has been similar. But Ethan Hawke always appears in time to relieve the tension and is a pretty constant figure in their lives. It can be tempting to see the fun that the children have with their father and put him on a pedestal, but Linklater does a good job of revealing the frustration that the two sometimes harbor for him.
Despite the added pressure that comes with single parenting, Olivia manages to be lighthearted in her own fashion. Unwary of befouling her children's minds, she is liberal in her use of obscenities. Mason Sr.’s banter with Olivia’s mother is another bit of comic relief that works really well without discounting their personal struggles.
It is impossible to dilute the emotional breadth of the film in a concise fashion because everyone will take away something different from it. In honing in on the largely banal life of an American boy, Linklater serves up something epic that will cater to everyone.
You’ll find a bit of yourself in every character, and be reminded to treat your own family better. And that’s all that matters.