Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and Lorelei Linklater
Written by Richard Linklater
The career of director Richard Linklater is a particularly interesting one, from his origins as an iconic creator of slacker-comedies in the early 90’s to an almost obsessive insight into the relation that time has on film, it’s no surprise that he would eventually create a film like ‘Boyhood.’ In a similar style to his ‘Before’ trilogy, where the same narrative was picked up each time the filmmakers returned to the trilogy, even with the ten-year gap between films, ‘Boyhood’ became well-known for the director returning to the same actors every year or so in an attempt to accurately portray how they develop throughout their childhood and teen years.
Whilst the creation of the film features an interesting and unique approach to filmmaking, the whole elaborate plan would be completely irrelevant if the final product turned out to be a bad film. In the case of ‘Boyhood’ this isn’t exactly true, as the characters are often engaging, and their emotional journey throughout the film is interesting and will most likely resonate with many of the audience. The monotonous suburban lifestyle put to screen is one that is fairly atypical in recent years, and the fads and styles that litter the narrative will be familiar to anyone who grew up during the turn of the millennium. However, a film shouldn’t simply rely on an audience being able to compare their own lives with that of the characters to be successful, it should create an interesting and engaging story of its own. Whilst there are moments of this within ‘Boyhood,’ for a film that boasts a near-three hour runtime, there aren’t nearly enough elements of intrigue or excitement to really grab the audience’s attention. It could be argued that this isn’t the film’s intent, and rather its aim is to document the often underwhelming elements of adolescence, and in this way it would succeed if the characters were portrayed to be people that we could invest ourselves and our own experiences in.
One of the most difficult elements of a project such as this would most likely be maintaining a clear consistency across every scene. A cut between one scene and the next could be a difference of a year both within the film and the real world, and so ensuring that both the technical aspects and the performances don’t feature noticeable changes would have been difficult undertaking. Whilst the film is successful in its aesthetic continuity, the performances can often feel subdued, as if a low-energy approach to the characters will ensure that there are very few changes in their presence onscreen. In particular, the films lead, Mason Jr (Ellar Coltrane) is often sullen and unenthusiastic, which does accurately represent most teenagers, but provides little interest when he’s featured in all but two scenes within the films 165 minute runtime. By the end of the film, you are left with very knowledge of any of the character’s interests or passions – save for one – and the relationships that he develops with those around him throughout the story feel fairly surface level. There are some great scenes that really shine through, such as his mother’s sudden outburst of emotion moments before the Mason Jr heads for college, but there aren’t nearly enough for a film that is working on as grand a scale a this one.
There is a clear beauty to ‘Boyhood,’ and the cinematography captures the simple intrigues of everyday life in a consistently interesting style – an impressive feat for a film that’s shot over the course of seven years. However, ‘Boyhood’ ultimately feels as if it contains a lot of missed potential. No doubt Richard Linklater will have more tricks up his sleeve in the future, and may attempt a project as lengthy as this this one again, but for now we should at least be thankful that his ‘Before’ trilogy turned out as well as it did.