Drenched in the awkwardness and auspiciousness that comes with growing up (not old), Boyhood manages to confront those moments with tenderness. Twelve plus years in the making, Linklater takes a page out of the works of Paul Almond, whose Up Series follows their subjects lives for extended periods of time. This film does just that but wraps a seemingly invisible narrative around it all.
Mason Jr. is whisked away from place to place by his single-mother (played by the fearless Patricia Arquette) not allowing a foothold in any certain place in his life. Just as Mason’s mother doesn’t allow her world to stop and reflect, Linklater isn’t afforded the luxury either. There’s a moment when Mason Jr. is driving away from his first (of many) homes and we see Mason’s best friend wave at him amongst the passing trees. His visage gets blurred…and he’s gone. There isn’t any sentimental music, there isn’t a heart-wrenching “goodbye”. Life for Mason just passes by without reflection.
This is the brilliance of Boyhood; a film which has countless opportunities to dwell in those sentimental moments, but chooses not to. It would be unfair. At a later state in his life, he goes camping with his biological father (Ethan Hawke). They go for a ceremonious dip in the lake and we watch the whole scene carry out in a wide shot. No conventional close-ups for overt emotion, no underwater shots for instilled quirk, and no tacked on strings section for emotional instruction. Linklater’s style in Boyhood is reminiscent of Ozu for its calmed confidence in its subject matter: family. Linklater’s nearly opaque tone allows the viewer to simply experience these moments, not confront them head-on. Like in real life, these moments seem to bear no heavy weight until much later, then you realized they’re the ones that defined you.
For a story spanning so many years, the stage for performers is vast and yet everyone shines. Ellar Coltrane gives the best non-performance of the year. He doesn’t have the dark, mischevious eyes of the young Antoine Doinel in The 400 Blows, nor the unknowing, distrustful eyes of Alex in Fanny & Alexander. Coltrane's bright, curious eyes seem gentle and solemn, and they slightly harden as he hits puberty. What a wonderful twist of fate for Linklater. The transformative physicality of these characters is so astonishing. Richard Robichaux steals the show in the third act as the prim boss of Mason Jr. His delivery in the kitchen is both real, funny and warming. It’s also significant that he could be the first male role in Mason Jr.’s life who doesn’t burden him with fearmongering so prevalent in the other dominant males.
Marco Perella gives a blood-curdling performance as the Stepfather. This standout performance is as terrifying as it is sad. His harsh rigidity is akin to a drill instructor and his disrespect is akin to a petulant child. Time and time again, we see the evil stepmother in cinema who is hated by her unlawful children. It’s refreshing to see Linklater portraying the sexual dynamic a little more interestingly and realistically.
The team of male role models for Mason Jr. is feeble to say the least. They’re all children who can’t seem to sell their GTOs and miss the big baseball game. Mason Jr.is constantly reminded by the importance of growing up because he’s surrounded by males who simply cannot. In this, Boyhood proves a testament to motherhood. The Mother must simultaneously raise a child while undoing the damage imposed by her lovers.
In a time when film audiences are bludgeoned with heroes who conquer time and their foes, it’s so incredible to see an epic that doesn’t hinge on this premise and becomes radical in its complete refusal to do so. Like with Bernie, Linklater is fascinated with the underdog. Boyhood’s hero allows time to unfold around him and becomes apart of time, not above it. Linklater said it best when he remarked, “Most of us are losers most of the time, if you think about it.” It’s the core behind most of Linklater’s films. Boyhood is no exception. It proves that eventually time conquers us all.
Once in a blue moon, you watch a film and time vanishes in front of you. Boyhood did this for me. Linklater can manage to make a single night like in Dazed & Confused seem like the lifetime that defined your teenage years and in another film, make a whole childhood flash before you. Linklater may never conquer time, but I certainly love to watch the battle.