There has been much buzz created around Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. The director of Dazed and Confused and School of Rock fame set his sites on an entirely new type of cinema with his latest feature.
The concept is unprecedented in narrative film and actually quite brilliant: Rather than casting different actors to portray children as they grow up, simply film the children growing up. So Linklater started filming in 2002 and ended in 2014 to make Boyhood, the story of a boy named Mason.
Played by Ellar Coltrane in his breakout role, Mason grows from 5 years old to 18, right in front of our eyes. The film is made up of segments of his life. His mother, portrayed by Patricia Arquette, is in and out of failed and sometimes abusive marriages throughout his life, forcing he and his sister Samantha, played by Lorelei Linklater, to move around and change schools quite often. His father, played by Ethan Hawke, plays quite a large role in his life as well.
The acting and dialogue feel awkward at times, which makes the film even more realistic. Real life is awkward sometimes. Other than Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, the cast is fairly new to acting, so there isn’t much separation between the characters and the actors themselves.
The film is heavily tied to the periods in which filming took place, which gives us fellow Generation Y folks a strong sense of nostalgia. At age 5 his room was decorated with “Dragon Ball Z” posters and his sister sings Britney Spears songs. Later in the film the family, decked out in wizard garb, stands in line for their copy of the new Harry Potter book. Even the music ages throughout the film, starting with early 2000 hits like Coldplay’s “Yellow” and eventually moving to Yo La Tengo’s 2013 song “I’ll Be Around.”
As each juncture of Mason’s life passes onscreen, I couldn’t help but put myself in that time period and in Mason’s shoes. Eventually, after going through the pitfalls that many of us go through during our adolescence, Mason begins to come into his own as a photographer and somewhat of an introvert, and leaves home for college, a fate that the audience must have seen coming from a mile away. The protagonist of Boyhood simply has to succeed in the traditional sense of the word. It’s the modern-day fairytale ending.
I have never seen a film like Boyhood. For me, watching this kid grow up and go through the same kind of struggles myself and many others I know have been through was meaningful and enjoyable. Each segment of the film was characteristically specific to its time, and it made me feel like I was growing up again.
That being said, I’m a white, middle-class twenty something male. This movie was made to make people like me feel that way. My girlfriend, who saw the movie with me, wasn’t quite as crazy about it as I was, understandably. The movie isn’t called Girlhood.
That’s the only complaint that I’ve heard about this movie: It alienates everyone who isn’t in the same demographic as Mason. This isn’t to say that no one else can enjoy the film, or relate to his trials and tribulations; they just aren’t likely to feel as strong of an emotional connection to the protagonist as someone like me is.
As a filmmaker you can’t appeal to everyone, and you have to make what you know. Clearly, this is a portrait of a life that Linklater knows. The film takes place in Texas, where he grew up. He cast his own daughter to play Samantha, Mason’s sister. It is easy to see that this film is close to Linklater’s heart, and for that reason it is a success. It may be a skewed portrait of boyhood in America, but it is the one that Linklater wanted to show. Until a more universally relatable character is chosen and filmed over the course of 12 years, Boyhood will remain possibly the truest, most realistic film that I have ever seen.