Boyhood is a real experience, in a good way. Richard Linklater’s 12 year epic, both in terms of production and story, depicts the child-to-teenage-hood of Mason, a fairly ordinary boy from the United States. It captures a very certain sombre confusion that I think, in some way, every single one of us felt during our teenage years, and this is beautifully shown through not only the gentle storytelling but also the compelling performances and brilliant presentation of power dynamics in families, workplaces and other areas of life.
Linklater’s trademark aimless precision shines throughout as the story weaves a notably honest but somewhat bleak plot-line through almost disjointed scenes, shown chronologically with minimal score, cuts or edits, as we have grown so used to seeing in Linklater’s work. However here I would argue that this technique of his works its best, as through such a style combined with this subject matter a distinct sense of futility manifests – all of Mason’s key life events seem disconnected and isolated, and whilst things do happen and he learns consequentially through them, nothing of major importance, to him, at least, really occurs in the end, and that really is kind of the point this time. Boyhood presents a calm nothingness that seems to capture teenage angst and a youthful longing for a meaningful identity perfectly. Linklater is a natural director for such a film.
The overall style, however, does seem predictable at points if you are already familiar with Linklater’s work, and certain soundtrack choices seem a tad too twee even for a film about teenage in-opportunity. The opening is especially weak: a reverse pan from a 6 year old lying on a grassy lawn, staring blankly at the sky whilst Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’, a classic 2009 PicCollage favourite, plays softly in the background seems, ultimately, very uncreative. Such a style of sequence has been replicated countless times before, more often than not in B grade music videos, and I feel there could have been so many more interesting methods of beginning such an unusual film. The script presents another localised issue, as whilst being very strong overall, particularly in moments of conflict (one is heavily reminded of that long argument scene in Before Midnight) certain exchanges between the younger characters in the film seem forced and improbable, not helped by how a few younger performers struggle slightly to perform coherently or convincingly, including even, at points, Lorelie Linklater, Richard’s daughter. I generally expect and partly forgive this of child actors – it’s hard to direct someone of such an age and it’s even harder to find younger people who work as well as many fully trained adults do on screen – but when the younger characters are the main focus of the film, it seems important that the casting process chooses only the strongest for the final shoot.
However, certain performances shine blindingly brightly, and rightly so too; in terms of younger actors, Ellar Coltrane is spot on as Mason and Zoe Graham portrays a thoroughly convincing good-friend-turned-love-interest in the character of Sheena. Ethan Hawke (of course he’s in this, he probably has a contract based around ownership of his soul to Linklater at this point) and Patricia Arquette are completely believable and, at heart, an incredibly likeable dis-associated pair, both with intentions and views that don’t quite correspond to the other, but neither in any way malicious (Hawke’s role admittedly being somewhat reminiscent of a slight re-hash of his previous character in the Before trilogy). Other more minor cast members also deliver wonderful on-screen performances, such as Charlie Sexton and Richard Robicheaux, but one of the most striking actors has to be Marco Perella, whose detailed and chillingly measured but thoroughly unpredictable depiction of Welbrock, an abusive stepfather with a far from stereotypical background, is legitimately terrifying. The measure and calmness of his general manner contrasted with bursts of sheer rage, shown only at fleeting moments, reaches a perfect equilibrium allowing him to become, for me, possibly the most impactful character in the entire film. Breaking the stereotype to show an abuser who isn’t, at first glance, thuggish or shady, but in fact quite the opposite, is not only important but incredibly clever.
In essence Boyhood is, just like growing up from infancy into adulthood, a rite of passage; it should be considered a must-see for anyone who is a fan of Linklater or less conventional cinema. It encompasses all that is synonymous with the age gap it depicts and provides a reassuring nod to anyone experiencing anything even vaguely similar to that which Mason is going through: a craving for an extra bit of encouragement, or direction, or confirmation as to what should happen in the immediate next. As Patricia Arquette’s frustrated character says in a final quiet moment in the piece, ‘I just thought there would be more’. I think, at some point in our lives, we all did.
-Toby Moran Mylett