You’ve no doubt seen the lofty, hyperbole filled claims about Boyhood on either the trailer for the film or its promotional posters, stating that it is a ‘once in a lifetime movie’ and ‘a totally new cinematic experience’. If you have you’ve probably wondered just how valid they are. I can tell you now they are completely valid.
Richard Linklater has created one of the most unique films of all time. His coming of age story, which was filmed over 12 years, sees the cast grow up in real time. This in turn presents a story that becomes both real and surreal all at once; like a wondrous hybrid of Stand By Me and Robert Winston’s Child of Our Time.
Those expecting huge moments of emotional climax will be sorely disappointed – as will those hoping for a standard 3 act story. For Boyhood deals with all those tiny moments in life that often seem inconsequential, but which when viewed through the eyes of hindsight are actually wholly formative in our development.
Because of this focus on intimate happenings, the film is all the more relatable. Unlike Mason (the ‘Boy’ in ‘Boyhood’) I am not a child of divorce, nor did I grow up in Texas or spend my adolescence moving house many times and taking photos of everything. But I do have a family, and I did have the same issues at school that every child has. I had to deal with puberty, first crushes, first kiss, first drunken night, first hangover etc. These are just some of the things Linklater covers, and he does it with a deft observational eye.
In one particular stand out scene, Mason comes home to a surprise family party and Linklater spends a good deal of time pointing his camera at the buffet table. There it hangs voyeur like as we glimpse the behaviour of each generation of the family as they descend on the food, each eyeing it with a different kind of excitement/gluttony whilst filling their plates. This is a moment that could have been glossed over or ignored completely given its total lack of bearing on the story; but instead its inclusion serves to create a moment so real it may as well be holding a mirror up to the audience. It also shows Linklater as the closest living filmmaker to John Hughes – taking all those family foibles and turning them into glorious art.
Given that Boyhood never attempts to reach for a story peak of any kind there are a couple of moments that feel a little slow. These come as Mason hits his mid teens and struggles to find a direction of his own. But again this only reflects how life was for each and every one of us as we battled to carve out our identities in the acne covered high school days. Therefore it is essential to see the film as less of a traditional narrative and more a sweeping meditation on life, and what the hell it all means to have to grow up.
Seeing Boyhood is an experience. It is one that I would recommend to everyone. There has never been a film that so perfectly captures both the naïve and free feelings of youth, whilst even handedly revealing the difficult truth of dealing with the responsibilities of being an adult. It will make you pine for your younger days, whilst also making you happy you only had to live them once.
Richard Linklater really has produced something no other filmmaker will likely ever replicate. The fact that he managed to maintain tone and style even as his skills and mindset evolved over the 12 year filming period is astonishing. This is the kind of filmmaker we need; bold, exciting and completely disinterested with doing what Hollywood wants him to do. Boyhood is a triumph and we are lucky to have it.