Richard Linklater’s 166 minute epic brilliantly captures the everyday story of modern family life. Filmed and written in annual 12-day sessions between 2002-2013, Boyhood follows Mason Jr (Ellar Coltrane), a Texan kid living with his single mum and sister (played by the director’s daughter, Lorelei Linklater), on his journey from a six-year-old to a first year university student. Each year of Mason’s life, and by extension his family’s lives, is documented by chronological segments lasting around ten minutes each.
Like most people’s ‘boyhood’ period, Mason’s story is not dominated by any single moment, but rather a collection of stepping stones on the way to adulthood. It’s all here: from awkward visits by an estranged father and run-ins with his troubled replacements, to the first girlfriend and that first joint.
There’s no catastrophic car crash or thrilling final shootout, yet the film is immensely captivating throughout. This is because it gives gravity to life events less studied on screen, such as the first questioning of what we should do with our lives and why. Questions which wrack Mason and his family as they do many of us. Indeed, one of the most poignant lines of Boyhood is delivered towards the end of the film by Mason’s mother as he gets ready to depart for college. Upon realising that all the major events of life are behind her, she breaks down and moans: “I thought there would be more than this!”
The film, for the most part, manages to subtlety contextualise these life events within the period in which it was filmed, the so-called ‘noughties’. The ageless existential questions of everyone’s boyhood are discussed next to musings over the nature of Facebook and the feverish 2008 Obama campaign. The soundtrack, though largely successful, can sometimes be a bit too ‘sign posty’ however; the way Coldplay’s Yellow is blared at the start of the film is about as subtle as screaming ‘ALERT! WE ARE IN THE EARLY 2000’S, TAKE NOTE!’ Admittedly, this is a minor gripe.
At almost three hours long, Boyhood just about manages to not outstay its welcome – though it probably could have gotten away with being a good 20-30 minutes shorter. Indeed it might have outlived said welcome if the calibre of acting hadn’t been so high throughout. Ellar Coltrane shines in a movie packed with great performances. He is particularly impressive during the scenes filmed when he was little over six years old, especially when considering that child actors are normally bearable at best.
Boyhood is exceptional on all counts. It conveys a refreshing look at the coming of age story, both in the way it was filmed and, somewhat paradoxically, via the everyman familiarity of its plot. It is perhaps the most intimate film you’re likely to see, replaying many of the defining events of our own formative years – albeit with snazzier haircuts.