Honest and moving Richard Linklater’s Boyhood gives a depiction of growing up unlike anything we have seen on screen before now. It is true, films often use the passing of time to add realism to a continuing drama, as indeed Linklater did with his Before series. Or often the longevity of the filming process gives us a snapshot into the coming-of-age of its stars, as was the case with the Harry Potter films; Daniel Radcliffe and co morphing into adults from their ten year old selves. But with Boyhood this passing of time is not merely incidental, nor is it contrived to create a more realistic piece. It is the crux of Linklater’s narrative as he gently pushes the audience’s attention towards these pockets of life so that the passing of time is exactly the drama we are observing. Every inch of height gained, every maturing facial expression becomes the thrill and the spectacle of this film. Our emotional countenance is measured by the mere passing of years as Linklater reminds you just how quickly it moves and how much can change within it.
Despite opening with the sickening sound of Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’, the piece is not as weighed down by sentimentality as you would expect. Instead the story, which depicts twelve years in the life of our protagonist Mason, is carefully tongue in cheek. The saccharine scenes of teenage existential angst are fondly mocking, rendering this film perceptive rather than over wrought and mushy. The characters and indeed many of the incidents are incredibly recognisable and the real time filming means that the time periods are unbelievably accurate.
Ellar Coltrane’s performance is remarkable and perhaps due to the time spent with him, he truly inhabits the role making the coming-of-age mean that we do truly see the growth of a fully rounded individual. Coltrane has given so much of his life to Mason that the performance is not simply a caricature of that journey from boy to young adult. Praise for this however must also be given to Linklater’s script which has created not only Mason, but an entire family and supporting cast of characters who are both flawed and appealing but always fully realised. The situations depicted and the actions of the characters hit so close to the truth that the pain and the humour pour forth of their own accord. It succeeds in capturing the realism it so strives for, and like life is sad and draining at times, but wonderfully funny nevertheless.
More than a mere concept film, Linklater presents us with recognisable characters and astute observations making Boyhood a masterpiece not because of the idea itself, but in the way that the idea is realised.