Is it even possible to put into film the complexity of growing up? Many filmmakers have tried in the past but the inherent struggle is the changes over time and its representation within the film. Many films try to pack too much growth in a short period of time or show one defining event as the moment which kick-starts a change in attitude. Films such as The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Stand By Me even Truffaut’s The 400 Blows are examples of the aforementioned – whilst absolute classics and wonderful in their representation of coming-of-age however they pack so much personal growth into such a short period of time. The act of maturing happens slowly over a number of events that all add up into the person that you become – and this is extremely hard to represent in cinema. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood takes its time and demonstrates this with the form in which it was shot.
Shot over 39 days over the course of 12 years, Linklater follows the life and growth of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and those around him. That’s about as complex as the narrative gets. There’s a collection of moments throughout Mason’s life that are shown – and interestingly not always just the milestones. We don’t bounce around from memorable moment to memorable moment; we enjoy the time where Mason is discovering himself and finding who he is – with his family, with his friends, with girls; all aspects of those awkward teenage years.
This isn’t all about Mason though; we get to see the implications of growing on Mason’s family. Mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette), relatively absent father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) and sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater – daughter of Richard) all experience growth through the time and we get to see this through Mason’s eyes. Mason’s mother makes a few bad choices in terms of the men she chooses – and we experience this with all the tension and anxiety due to absolutely wonderful filmmaking by Linklater.
Linklater is an absolute master of naturalistic dialogue and moments, this has been shown throughout his career – Slacker being a perfect demonstration of this with its wandering from moment to moment. The way in which this film is put together is absolutely astounding, despite the passage of time – the passages are clear when they occur, often due to changing haircuts – the tone and character dynamics remain ultimately unchanged. At no point does the feeling of watching 12 different films occur, each moment interconnects with the rest – in that way it’s clear that this came from the man who made Slacker.
The dynamic between Mason and his father is extremely well represented and despite the clear flaws of spending time away from his children, Mason Sr. is a very sympathetic character and we get to see the fear in the responsibility that come with Mason Jr. and Samantha, as well as the change over time. This is not ever shown as looking down on this relationship, it’s unflinchingly honest in this representation – rather than judging. Mason and his father clearly share a bond and this is best represented during a scene in which they go camping. It’s such a complete father/son moment that is captures its perfection.
His parents dynamic, again shows its passage through time. Their experiences change them as people who change their relationship and how they interact with one another – seemingly not just for the sake for their children. One particular moment where Mason Sr. shows his appreciation for all of her efforts is utterly heartwarming.
In case this has been buried throughout the course of this review, the films main strength is its characters; that it’s not jarring to have such a passage of time during the film. Linklater has crafted such full and rounded characters that have such a wonderful growth across the film’s duration. This is down to both Linklater’s masterful direction and the amazing job for the actors to pick up these roles for only a few days out of the year.
It is not something that can be thrown around lightly however it truly seems like this is one of the important films – much like the work of Truffaut. In coming decades, this will be taught and remembered as one of the true greats. Linklater has taken the notion in his Before series of showing the passing of time and taken it up to 11 – with utterly astounding results. It’s true, not a lot happens in terms of narrative or action however it’s entirely about the moments and the growth that the characters experience – and Linklater’s masterful role in putting these together.