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July 19, 2014

Boyhood (2014)
Director: Richard Linklater
Actors: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke

Boyhood2.1.jpg (300×200)

Synopsis: The life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from the ages of six to eighteen.

Review: What I love most about Richard Linklater films are their relentless curiosity about this thing called ‘life’, and that they’re almost always in some way experimental. And when I say experimental, I don’t mean in some obtuse, artsy-intellectual way (as in work such as Matthew Barney’s Cremaster cycle), but more in how Linklater is constantly working through the emotional potential and impact of his medium, and makes films out of the everyday metaphysical musings that any regular person might have. That’s not to underestimate how radically Linklater looks to merge form to the content of his pieces, but the ideas and sentiment are always the most important elements to him – hence why he’s considered one of the most empathetic directors in world cinema.

When you think about the simple genius of Boyhood‘s design, it’s a wonder no one had conceived of it before, as Linklater gets so much mileage out of the workings of the twelve year on-screen progression of his story and its personnel. Of course, there’s the in-built power and poignancy in being privy to the physical ageing of the main characters (especially Mason and his older sister, Samantha, who take that giant leap from childhood to the cusp of adulthood in the course of the film). It’s also a truly great document on Americana, the American landscape, how technology and cultural tastes have evolved dramatically, and most prevalently of all, it’s a marvellous piece on the concept of temporality – a key component in all of Linklater’s more independent-minded cinema.

For the most part, Linklater eschews the temptation to over-schematise with his ‘conceit’, hence why the narrative seems to float through time, not necessarily explaining the literal causes for every change in circumstance or behaviour. Perhaps the only occasion where Linklater falls from his lofty pedestal as dramatist is in the character of Bill, Mason’s mum’s second husband, who appears too obviously a plot device. We meet him first as a reasonably capable university lecturer, but then fast-forward in time, he’s reduced to a stereotype of an angry, dissatisfied drunkard. I appreciate any person can drift suddenly into dissolute alcoholism, but it feels like Linklater is setting Bill up too cleanly and one-dimensionally as a foul man, solely to propel Mason’s family onto their next improvised living situation and to imprint a later theme that Mason’s mother has a habit of attracting unstable, ‘loose cannon’ partners. That aside, Linklater handles the other dramatic nuances superbly, and in the quietly clever ending, where Mason in his youthful dreaminess opines about the magic of life as an ‘accrual of moments’ to a potential new flame on the first day of college, it feels as close to a manifesto on Linklater’s beautiful ode to growing up as we’re going to get. (July 2014)

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