Boyhood **** (out of five)
By now you’ll know that Boyhood was shot by Richard Linklater over twelve years using the same cast, and the central premise, which is watching a young boy grow into a late teen. The great news is that this concept forms the spine of an excellent movie whose story is served, not dictated, by it. Boyhood is the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), but it is also the story of his sister, his mother, his father, his step-dads, his neighbourhoods, and his America. It is very, very funny, but it is always a dramatic story. Not a single line feels like a written joke, although the film is entirely scripted, and all of the humour feels observed rather than created. It is a technically astonishing, completely written fiction that feels like real life.
Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke play Mason’s parents perfectly, and Linklater’s daughter Lorelei superbly – and hilariously – plays his sister. The sibling relationship is lovely – as are the parental connections, both highly distinct – and the pair of step-dads (Marco Perella and Brad Hawkins) are worthy adversaries to the generally good vibes and intentions of the main family unit, while being played by actors unknown enough to feel like they’ve stepped off the (real) streets of Texas.
Brilliantly, Linklater doesn’t underline the jumps in time; if anything, they’re understated, and at their most subtle you may not even realise for a moment or two that you’ve jumped a few years, and if Ellar hasn’t changed much, it may be the colour of the kitchen walls that is your gentle alert. At other times the sudden transition is (in a quiet way) quite shocking, as Ellar suddenly grows taller, leaner, pimpled, deep-voiced, and wise. The film stock, aspect ratio and sound design are all of such a piece that, technically, the time-jumps are seamless; the effect is of a normal movie, shot in, say, five weeks, that happened to employ magical actors who could age as required.
This is one hell of a warm movie, and at the end my face was literally sore from smiling. At two hours and forty-five minutes, the film is way too long, and that is most apparent in the last third, which, unfortunately, drags a little. But that’s the film’s only vice. It’s excellent, excellent, excellent. Expect Oscar nominations, especially for Linklater’s direction, and a heavy campaign for Coltrane. Linklater would deserve it, and Coltrane getting it – well, that could only make your face sore with smiling. He’s gonna be the hottest thing in Hollywood for the next news cycle, but whether he wants to be, who can tell? After all, he took this role when he was five years old.