“Boyhood” is the amazing film about a Texas family focusing primarily on the story of Mason and his growth from elementary school student to college freshman. The film’s title is a tad misleading because while we watch Mason grow, we also see the development of his family…his sister and most especially his parents.
Richard Linklater, “Boyhood’s director and writer, chose to work with the same cast over a twelve year period, so we see the actual physical changes in each actor. While this might seem like a stunt, it actually works beautifully. By keeping the same actors in play over twelve years, “Boyhood” makes you are part of a real family, experiencing their growth with them.
“Boyhood” begins when Mason, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) is six, looking like the little boy on the movie posters. He lives in a small town in Texas with his older sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette). The parents are divorced and their father, Mason, Sr., (Ethan Hawke), was working in Alaska, but is now back in Texas and sees them sporadically. Olivia is in a dead-end job and decides to move the family to Houston so she can get her college degree. This move is the first of a series of moves and husbands who turn out to have serious drinking problems. But through it all, Olivia is there for her children and they know it. Once the family is in Houston, Mason, Sr. enters the children’s live with more regularity and it is fun witnessing them bond as a unit. That relationship feels very genuine. As we experience the moves to new schools and towns, we see the children develop and grow. We watch Samantha go off to college and get to see Mason experience and lose his first real love.
It cannot be overstated how astoundingly fantastic the cast of “Boyhood” is. Patricia Arquette is amazing as the hard-working, practical mother. Her character may not be the best judge of male partners, but she is nothing if not fierce in protecting her children. Arquette beautifully portrays her character’s varying emotions and growth. Ethan Hawke is fabulous as the liberal dreamer, musician father. He has terrific rapport with the actors playing his children and his scenes as a father, particularly those with Mason, seem very authentic. The only problem with Hawke, through no fault of his own, is a physical one…the man doesn’t age. Everyone else either gets fatter, thinner, older, wrinklier, grayer…nothing happens with him. He is positively ageless.
The two actors portraying Mason and Samantha are incredible. Linklater is so extraordinary and real in the early years as the older, bratty sister that she almost walks away with the movie. Her skill in being able to turn her tears on and off in an initial scene with Mason will have you laughing and silently applauding at the same time. One can’t wait to see what the future hold for her. Ellar Coltrane also demonstrates great promise as an actor. His ability to show the emotional growth and inner ferocity of his character is absolutely brilliant. His is a quiet, but very effective and affecting performance.
Working with the same actors over a period of years is not new. Most recently Michael Winterbottom’s 2012 “Everyday” was shot over the course of five years, shooting two weeks at a time over Christmas, in order to show the physical changes of a family while the father was in prison. He took the casting even further by using real-life siblings for the brothers and sisters in the film. But Linklater’s approach–working on a project for twelve years and making the transitions seamless takes this idea to a whole other level. His resulting movie is positively remarkable.
Even at 165 minutes, “Boyhood’s” time seems to flash by. But you will want to savor every minute.