Spanning twelve years in the life of a Texan boy (Ellar Coltrane) from fresh-faced innocent to philosophizing student, Richard Linklater’s multi-award-winning epic Boyhood is perhaps the most stunning film achievement in the last decade. An astonishingly ambitious project, Linklater uses the lives of an ordinary family to create something extraordinary; a universal story almost anybody can recognize within themselves.
Starting with six-year-old Mason as he gazes up at the sky, his whole life ahead of him, Linklater rapidly moves through the years, making us discover Mason’s family for ourselves. Single mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) is loving and devoted but always falls in love with the wrong men. Absent father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) wants to be the cool parent, despite being a penniless slacker. Mason, meanwhile, is a sharp young boy who rebels against his authoritarian parental figures (abusive alcoholics and strict war veterans), becoming a drug-smoking, pacifist artist.
Rather than focus on the explosive moments in Mason’s life, Linklater observes the tiny, insignificant moments that are definitive to Mason’s character. Boyhood is never more alive than riding in the car with Mason Sr., bickering with Mason’s sister (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter), or witnessing the despair of Olivia’s failed marriage.
While Coltrane is a rather unpolished actor (cast as a child, he matured into the role), he gives a fine performance as a young man trying to come to terms with the world, and his place within it; not hugely emotive, but certainly authentic. While his performance isn’t stunning, he’s helped tremendously by two outstanding supporting actors. Ethan Hawke is wonderful as Mason’s father, a carefree man who turns his life around to become a role model. However, the best performance by far is Oscar-winner Patricia Arquette, who broke hearts all over for her sympathetic performance as the mother who, upon seeing her son leaving for college, tearfully muses that she “just thought there would be more”.
The soundtrack may be a perfect naughties time capsule and the editing is unbelievably done, but ultimately the success of Boyhood is down to its director. Linklater had a vision far beyond any of his peers, and his determination held the film together over its twelve-year shoot. Boyhood is a modern masterpiece, the likes of which have rarely been seen before or since.