Boyhood is a really cool concept for a movie. You have to admire the film makers who set out to film a movie over the course of twelve years. Twelve years! That’s a long time to be committed to a project but it really pays off. Ellar Coltrane, who plays the titular boy Mason, was 7 when they started, and 18 when they wrapped. Imagine signing that kind of contract at such a young age. You can’t, because such a thing would be illegal in the US. The producers would have just had to cross their fingers, but everyone kept showing up, year after year. I’ve heard the kids maybe regretted their involvement at times, and who can blame them – hello, awkward years and teenage rebellion!. I’ve never had the same job that long, and few people of my generation ever will. Amazing. Richard Linklater, the director, was known for making movies that took place all in one day. This one, obviously, blows that right up. He even made a pact with Ethan Hawke that if he died during filming, Hawke would take over.
The time lapse is not the only naturlistic aspect of the movie. The family exchanges feel authentic; some of the footage feels almost home-movie-ish, like when the kids are lined up to get the most recent edition of the Harry Potter series. These kids went through everything that normal kids their age did – they experience Britney Spears, the Bush administration, and skinny jeans. Patricia Arquette really elevates her game as a struggling, single mother who raises her son and daughter and works to make better lives for them. Ethan Hawke, aging visibly o camera, plays the deadbeat father with a lot of growing up to do himself. Their lives feel real, like they could be your neighbours. Their cars and their sneakers are not mysteriously above their station. Real life happens to them, they repeat clothing, grow ill-advised mustaches, date the wrong guy, take up and then discard hobbies.
The script must have had to evolve as they filmed because a family is dynamic. It reacts and is influenced by the world around it. Politics and trends are woven deftly and interestingly into the story. Linklater was directing his own daughter for these twelve years and watching her grow in front of his lens. The kid actors are quite good, fortunately; they’re not hammy or too old for their age. I was beginning to think that for whatever reason only British kids could manage not to be annoying on film, but these two may have turned things around for the Americans, and it must have been difficult to cast someone who’s not just right for the part now, but will continue to be for years to come.
So we know the span is quite large (12 years!) but the scope is actually pretty tiny. We just stay focused on this little family, following this kid during those formative years of his life, all those little things that will eventually add up to the man. There’s not a lot happening. Yes, childhood is tumultuous, but these are pretty normal lives. Nobody adopted a pet dragon, or got adopted by a dog, or took home a giant inflatable robot. He just went to school, watched his mom divorce and remarry, learned to tolerate his sister, tried beer, masturbated to the Sears catalogue. Regular kid stuff that’s only interesting when you add it all up and realize that this is it. This is childhood. And at the end, it spits out an adult that we hope will go off and do well. This movie was the scrapbook of his life, and a running time of nearly three hours doesn’t cover more than an episode or two at each age, but even at that, this movie can feel a bit draggy. It’s not an action-packed movie, but I was moved by it. It’s not depressing by any means, but I guess I felt a bit sentimental about it, probably because I truly felt like I was given the chance to really get to know these people. In fact, it was hard to remember that this is fiction, it feels that much like just watching through someone’s window.
This is an experiment of a movie that needs to be seen. I’ve certainly never seen anything like it. Will anyone attempt it again? The door’s open now, but it’s such an undertaking, and such a risk, that I believe this movie is one of a kind.