No big-star names, equally big explosions, flashy effects or a premise that embraces escapism, the only thing Boyhood has that rivals summer blockbusters is its herculean length of 164 minutes. Guess what? It’s a winner – standing out from the seasonal bang-and-boom bands by being quite personal and all-out relatable.
Boyhood’s 12 years of filming equals to 12 years we shall follow Mason (Fast Food Nation‘s Ellar Coltrane), the youngest member of a middle-class Texan family, from age 6 to 18. The others include his older sister (director Richard Linklater’s daughter Lorelei) who can be a constant pain in the butt, his lonely mother (True Romance‘s Patricia Arquette) struggling to make the best out of unfortunate life choices and his distant-but-loving father (Ethan Hawke of Linklater’s Before series) trying to catch up with the children. Being able to witness the effect of time on everyone sans prosthetics or computer wizardry – changing hairdo, deepening voices, shifting girth or height, types of conversations and locations – is this summer’s greatest visual effect and what makes Boyhood tick.
Some might say the magic of Boyhood is in the way Mason’s 12 years play out in your, or similar to, a single day. That isn’t wrong, but no, I think it isn’t solely because of the film’s technical department. Richard Linklater’s script (more of an outline, I believe) and direction strike at universality, covering and showing situations at real life instead of the expected film drama-level; it remains intimate even if you watch it through the adult characters’ eyes looking down at the kids or, as was my case, through Mason’s and his surrounding grown-ups. A casual set-up, but a rich and at-the-heart execution. Pure artistry.
Having a wonderful cast surrounding Linklater also helps. Hawke perfectly suits the relaxed, ‘cool father’ role, providing much of the film’s brilliant humor, some at the Texas lifestyle, and warmth. Arquette serves up a beautiful performance as Mason’s mother, making both a temperate appearance and an inner suffering character visible on-screen. The two kids are the real stars, however, especially Coltrane who has great screen presence all the way from 6 to 18. While our performers have their roles, the scenarios they go through are so ordinary – having relationships, beer-drinking, graduation, moments where “reality isn’t wonderful but I must face it” and, especially, growing old – and their reactions so plausible they become real people. Fiction becomes reality here.
And I find myself gasping at times. There’s a moment where Mason is saddened after knowing his dad has sold a car he was quite attached to. So did I. Or when Mason’s dad demands more meaningful conversations out of his children on “Dad’s week”. So have mine. And that moment where both Mason and Sam, in their early teens, rocking these ridiculous hairstyles? So have my sister and I. Of course there are more moments of likeness to my life, even its nature of bringing up things and leaving them without any resolution or to anyone’s satisfaction. Then I realize – Boyhood may be about Mason’s life, but it’s also telling mine, and perhaps yours too; it may revolve around a boy, but no child, or adult, is excluded.
Boyhood is a special cinematic treat. Where editors would cut, it keeps. When other films imitate life, it is life. This is definitely not to be missed, even if the lengthy runtime, in this day and age, gets you to say “I will only see this once.”