September 17th 2014 05:00
Director Richard Linklater has had an enviable career. From one project to the next, he seamlessly crosses spheres from his home ground in the indie arena to the mainstream Ė and without ever selling his soul in pursuit of the almighty dollar. His reputation was initially forged with Slacker (1991), Dazed and Confused (1993), and Before Sunrise (1995) which would become the first leg of one of cinemaís finest ever trilogies. Later, there was his commercial breakout School of Rock (2003), but now heís settled into a pattern of seeking out a broad range of consistently interesting projects, the best of which include the wonderful Me and Orson Welles (2008) and flawed but compelling rotoscoped Philip K. Dick adaptation A Scanner Darkly (2006).
One that has long captured his attention finally sees the light upon its completion. Shot over the course of 12 years, Boyhood (2014) is a film of extraordinary ambition and daring. Without the ability to foresee the changing circumstances in the lives of its creative participants, Linklater imagined a series of ordinary lives unfolding in real time. The simplicity of the narrative belies its subject matter. This is a literal coming of age as Mason (Ellar Coltrane) negotiates his way from a boy of six through to his first hopeful day of college. Around him, relationships alter, renew, fall apart. His sister Sam (Lorelei Linklater, the directorís daughter) is a constant, his father (Ethan Hawke) returns intermittently to the frame, whilst his mother (Patricia Arquette) has trouble choosing stable partners, forcing a number of upheavals as the family regularly bounces around Texas.
The aging of the characters is far from a novelty. We quickly become invested in these lives, even as they move sporadically. Regularly we leap months in a single bound, forcing another re-evaluation as to where everyone has landed. The narrative has the feel of genuine memory, a juxtapositioning of good and bad days that intermingle in our own memories, later to be contorted or softened according to their importance in forging our own identities or maintaining happiness. The genius of Linklaterís writing is in trusting itself to reflect a common, relatable reality. There are no grandstanding moments, confounding twists or other contrivances. Rather itís the weight derived from an accumulation of observant, insightful, truthful scenes that allows the film to expand upon its own core immodesty.
Shot for only two or three days each year of its production, Boyhood may long be regarded as Linklaterís masterpiece. He incorporates elements of the castís lives, especially Coltrane, whose interest in photography is organically integrated into Masonís own expanding teenage consciousness and his desire to capture it artistically. Watching this understated, talented young actor grow up before our eyes in just under three hours is, in some sense, surreal, like an elaborate magic trick accelerated to warp speed.