Boyhood review: Despite the royal snub at Oscars, Richard Linklater's film is fabulous

Deepanjana Pal

February 23, 2015 11:11:52 IST

Editor's note: Boyhood was one of the contenders at Oscars race for Best Film Award. Although the film lost to Birdman, it's definitely worth. Here's a review of the film which we had published earlier.

Growing up is a boring but complicated process. Stuff happens, within you and without you. It feel very eventful to the person doing the growing up and unremarkable to everyone else. With Boyhood, director Richard Linklater has managed to make a random person's everyday life come across as riveting cinema.

Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is a six year old boy. At the start of the film, he's lying on grass, looking up at the blue sky. It's the perfect picture of childhood idyll. Over the next decade, idylls are shattered, rebuilt and abandoned. Mason and his family grow up. That, in a nutshell, is director Boyhood. Linklater's decision to shoot the film over 11 years sounds like an interesting experiment, but it's more than that. Watching the same actors age naturally and seeing the settings reflect the changing time lends a strange intimacy to Boyhood. It's as though every viewer is a silent, invisible member of Mason's family.

Courtesy: Facebook

Courtesy: Facebook

We're there when Mason's mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) argues with her boyfriend because she doesn't want to go out drinking with him and instead stays home to tell Mason and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) bedtime stories. We feel the painful tension in the room when Olivia's second husband turns out to be an abusive alcoholic. Olivia works at educating herself and keeps looking for men who will be good to her and her children because her first husband, Mason Sr (Ethan Hawke) turned out to be a charming but thoroughly irresponsible man. Unfortunately, Olivia's later husbands range from frustrated to abusive.

Mason watches his mother change husbands, he shuffles his way through school and high school. Time is charted through changing fashions, hairstyles and music. They're clever devices that delicately urge the viewer to remember their own lives. For instance, most of us will remember that moment when we heard Britney Spears sing "Hit me baby one more time" and that years when emo hair was the height of cool. It's probably not the same as Mason's associations, but it forms a certain kinship.

The actor's faces change, but the actors don't, adding to the smooth unfurling of the narrative ribbon in Boyhood. There's none of the drastic sharpness common in films because age is shown by actual ageing. (Or the lack thereof: Boyhood is concrete proof that Hawke has looked more or less the same for 11 years.) The story jumps from time period to time period without explanations or footnotes — after all, when did life come with subtitles and warnings? — but without feeling awkwardly paced. It's more like a flipbook and all the episodes of Mason's childhood come together to create a fantastic document of life in the early 21st century.

Ellar Coltrane is adorable as the boy Mason and as he grows older, he's a little more awkward but Linklater uses his almost impassive face beautifully. Arquette and Hawke provide solid support to Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater (who also happens to be the director's daughter) is an absolute delight as Samantha. Some of the most charming moments in Boyhood are between Samantha and Mason. You'd never guess they aren't actually a brother-sister duo.

Linklater's gift for capturing the quiet drama in everyday life has been on display repeatedly, like in the Before trilogy that began with Before Sunrise and ended with Before Midnight. Boyhood has that same quality of realism and the performances from Hawke and Arquette in particular offer fascinating insights. For instance, compared to his father, Mason is almost tame in his adolescent rebellion.

Ultimately, Boyhood is salute to human resilience. Life throws a fair amount at Mason, but he survives and he smiles about it; just as his mother and father have. Fittingly enough for a boy who tells the story of a decade through his childhood, Mason decides to become a photographer. He is particularly fond of old fashioned, analogue photography and you can't help wondering whether Linklater has allowed his own nostalgia seem into Mason.

Boyhood is a long, meandering film, but it's masterful and elegant. Time ticks away and with every scene, your curiosity about what lies ahead for Mason intensifies. By the end of the film, the rest of Mason's life has begun and we're longing to be part of it all over again.

Updated Date: Feb 23, 2015 11:38 AM