Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater and Ethan Hawke
Rating: Four stars
Richard Linklater loves to see how time affects people and relationships; his ‘Before’ series is a testimony to that. But with ‘Boyhood’, Linklater shows what a sharp eye for casting he has. It must mean something if the filmmaker has the conviction to pick the perfect six-year-old to play Mason Jr and unwaveringly film the boy and other cast members for a few days every year, for 12 years.
The filmmaker is the master of making the mundane mesmerising. Capturing the boyhood years of young Mason Jr (Coltrane) until adulthood, ‘Boyhood’ stands apart from other coming of age dramas for its authenticity, its razor sharp eye for detail and its simple storytelling. It doesn’t have as many iconic lines as any of his ‘Before’ series films, but that doesn’t make it a lesser film in any way.
Mason Jr (Coltrane), aged six, and his sister Samantha (Lorelei) live with their divorced mum who is grappling with the duties of motherhood on the one hand and having some semblance of a social life on the other. The film opens with a shot of Mason Jr staring into the blue sky without a care for the world around, as one would expect a six-year-old to be. Over the course of the next 12 years, Mason Jr grows up, forms friendships, tries to fit in them, experiments like most teenagers do and watches in silence as his mum charts her own path through education and husbands.
Letting the same actor’s age through the duration and thus the film, Linklater gives the film a realistic feel and makes the viewer feel like mute spectators who have been given a chance to peek into a family’s mundane life. The change in time is shown through pop culture, fashion trends and the obvious effects of ageing on one’s face. This makes us feel a tug of nostalgia, particularly when the music ranges from the teen sensation Britney Spears’ Hit Me Baby One More Time to Coldplay’s Yellow. Mason Jr moves from a mad mop of hair to a buzz cut to scraggly adult.
Where Linklater excels is in making scenes out of moments in our lives that we tend to want to dismiss. Remember when you tried to act more than your age to simply “fit in”? Or when you told your mum that you’ll have more friends on your outdoor trip but it’s just you and your girlfriend/boyfriend? Linklater takes issues of adolescence and lets Coltrane lead the way in charting the course of his life while taking us with him in the process.
Lorelei as Samantha is charming and is every bit the sibling one would’ve had. Ranging from cute to annoying to indifferent and eventually caring, Lorelei’s attachment to her on-screen brother seems so real that one really can’t tell if they’re not siblings in real life. Arquette as Olivia, mum of the kids and ex-wife of Mason Sr (Hawke) had her kids early and had to complete her education after her first divorce. She plays the character of a single parent in the lookout for stability but who eventually makes a series of terrible choices of life partners. But at no stage does her parenting suffer and Arquette works convincingly to recreate the angst, boredom and dissatisfaction of a single mother trying hard to just give her kids and herself a normal life.
Hawke doesn’t age all that much in the 12 years (not that we’re complaining) but he certainly does go from being an irresponsible husband to a dependable one, all along being a good father to the children who have had their fair share of terrible paternal figures in their lives.
Coltrane is the hero of the film no doubt, but this is Linklater’s film all the way. His vision, his sensitivity and his brilliance radiates in every frame of the film. From the points of view to the themes, Linklater has stamped his presence right through the journey that sometimes seems autobiographical. It is patchy in its transition of time but then life isn’t a bed of roses now, is it? Boyhood is long; it dawdles and somehow ends up fine and independent. Don’t we all?