Year: 2014
Country: USA
Production Companies: IFC Productions, Detour Filmproductions
Director: Richard Linklater
Writer: Richard Linklater
Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater

Review by Alexander Ferguson


The awards season is now in full swing, and every year there is one film all critics declare to be a masterpiece. Last year it was British director Steve McQueen in the spotlight for his adaptation of Solomon Northup’s 12 Years a Slave. It’s also true that every year it can feel impossible to navigate the films which truly deserve a nomination as they are often ignored by the Hollywood league of elite, white males.

This year, one of the films critics have drooled over like starving dogs is Richard Linklater’s Boyhood.

The question is: What’s so special about Boyhood?

Boyhood was filmed over a twelve year period with the same cast. Ellar Coltrane began filming with Linklater and the rest of the cast when he was just five years old, and the film follows his story into his college years at age eighteen. This twelve year lifespan sees Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and Lorelei Linklater age alongside Coltrane to document the experiences of childhood and teenage years as part of a seemingly mundane American upbringing.

Patricia Arquette in Boyhood, 2014
Patricia Arquette in Boyhood, 2014

Coltrane plays Mason, a young American boy growing up with his single Mum (Arquette) and sister, Sam (Linklater), with his absent Dad (Hawke) slowly working his way back into his kids’ lives.

That’s pretty much all I need to say about the plot of the film, but I can say more about what makes it special.

To commit yourself to a twelve year filming project could sound like total lunacy, and I can’t imagine for one second how Linklater or his cast coped with the pressure of knowing there would be no second chances with a film like this. However, they also clearly knew the risk would be worth it, and how lucky we are that they took it.

There’s been a lot of discussion about the fact the award nominations for 2015 have been dominated by white nominees, and I can see how Boyhood has contributed to this. It is a white film, about a white family, and makes no effort to be anything different. It’s a very difficult subject because I admire the film for not throwing in ‘token’ characters that only continue to perpetuate stereotypes in order to provide a varied cast. The sad truth is that it’s more believable to me that this family doesn’t have a ton of non-white friends, and that’s certainly worth discussing.

Gender has also been a discussion topic around the film, as the title would indicate it’s a film focused on boys and men, therefore neglecting the challenges faced by young women as they grow up.

Lorelei Linklater in Boyhood. 2014
Lorelei Linklater in Boyhood. 2014

Yes, the title is Boyhood and the film has a young boy at the centre of the story, but the film follows four main characters for twelve years and focuses carefully on the transitions of each one. There are certain events which are linked to the male gender, but overall the film doesn’t focus on ‘being a boy.’ In fact the film refuses to engage with the cliché of see the world through a boy’s eyes. The title refers more to the snapshot in time, and though Mason holds the film together, Linklater finds a pleasing balance from which to view the family as a whole and the development of each family member, particularly Mason’s Mum and Dad.

Rickard Linklaters' Boyhood, 2014
Rickard Linklaters’ Boyhood, 2014

Arquette is outstanding in her role as Mason’s Mum. Her journey from the single mum of a five-year-old boy to saying goodbye to her young adult son as he leaves for college was my favourite thing about the film. Hawke also puts in an authentic and touching performance as Mason’s Dad, and has the clearest story arc of all the characters. As you watch the two younger cast members age on screen, it doesn’t even register that they’re acting, and you’re left feeling like they are just portraying themselves. The addition of Arquette and Hawke does pull the film away from the ‘indie’ label, and I enjoyed the fact that the film hinged somewhere between high-budget entertainment, and low-budget experimentation.

To be honest, I could talk about this film for hours. It is so accomplished and so fascinating, and was the fastest two hours and forty-five minutes of my life. Linklater truly understands the power of cinema and creates a story both mesmerising and relevant to the real world. Boyhood is a home movie for a specific generation who identify with the life events, and more importantly, hair styles of recent years. It does not represent everyone by any means, but it stays true to those it wants to represent and does so with an attractive contradiction of awkwardness, discomfort, elegance and, overall, love.

The Family - Boyhood, 2014
The Family – Boyhood, 2014

This is a film which should be an underwhelming story of an American family, but is one of the greatest achievements in cinema I have seen in a long, long time. Linklater and his cast have made history, and accurately documented it in a way which is a love letter to both boyhood and parenthood.

Boyhood’s endeavour to capture a true representation of life, time, and change on film is astounding. It defies genre and defies convention, while being the most genuine cinematic experience possible.