Published Jun 15, 2014It's a simple enough storyline, but its execution is anything but.
Boyhood, Richard Linklater's 12-year epic, tells the tale of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) a young boy from a broken family attempting to find his place in the world. As the boy starts out at the age of six, the film unfolds like time-lapse photography, offering brief snapshots of his life from Grade 2 to 12, culminating with his first day as a college freshman. In the process, we get to take part in Mason's (and, to a degree, Coltrane's) physical and emotional transformations, watching as he learns about death, love, soft hands and what it means to be a man.
Taking the experiment first laid out in Linklater's Before trilogy and expanding it to unheard of new heights, Boyhood (originally known as "The Untitled Twelve Year Project") began filming in 2002 and was completed shortly before its premiere at Sundance this year. Recorded a few weeks out of the year for over a decade, the film was pieced together on the fly into 12 separate short films. However, viewed end to end in a linear format, Boyhood felt less like a traditional drama and more like I was witnessing my own life unfold, complete with heartbreak and pudgy pre-teen years.
To help document the film's transition through time, Linklater offers more than just the usual haircuts and fashion changes to capture the story's chronological ascent. Instead, Boyhood is rich with obvious and not-so obvious props from popular culture, using everything from Bondi Blue iMacs, 20Q balls, iPhones and GameBoy Advance SPs to allow Mason to not only wax poetic in his later years about his generation's reliance on technology, but help you to witness it firsthand as well.
While it may seem strange for the film to have its Canadian premiere at NXNE — a festival and conference primarily known for its focus on music — it's Boyhood's soundtrack that helps us understand the passing of time. From Coldplay's "Yellow" to Arcade Fire's "Deep Blue," astute listeners will be able to ascertain Mason's milestones more easily, with even critically-panned tracks of the past 12 years from artists like Soulja Boy and Cobra Starship transporting listeners back to 2007 and 2009, respectively.
Featuring an ensemble cast including Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, as well as relative unknowns Lorelei Linklater (the director's daughter) and Coltrane, it is the film's younger core that steals the show, as we witness their progressions from self-aware supporters to marquee method actors. (It's hard to fully comprehend the foresight Linklater and co. must have had to cast Coltrane at such a young age, because while he barely resembles Hawke in the film's early years, his silver screen son is certainly the second-coming of Troy Dyer or Jesse at the film's climax).
However, no words could fully describe the feeling one gets from watching Boyhood, a film that is nearly three hours in length, but, much like our youth, feels like it is over before its fully begun. Boyhood is not so much a film as it is an experience, and a lifetime-defining one at that.