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UK Release Date 11th July 2014
Director Richard Linklater
Starring Ellar Coltrane
Runtime 166 Minutes
Certificate 15
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 6th July 2014

We’ve made no secret of our love for Richard Linklater here at Broken Shark. A genuinely unique talent, he has been pushing at a variety of boundaries since he first shuffled into our consciousness with Slacker and Dazed and Confused way back at the start of the nineties. It was Before Sunrise that really marked him as a talent to watch though, a wonderful movie about not much and everything at the same time. Growing into one of the most original and affecting trilogies we’ve ever watched, it was between the first and second of these nine yearly visits to Jesse and Celine that his latest experimental picture was born…

Boyhood is a movie that could so easily have been caught as a novelty. Cast as a six year old in 2002, Ellar Coltrane was to play Mason every year for the next twelve. The central cast in that first year would grow with him as Linklater’s camera followed him through his most formative years into a young adult. Something that has never been done with a drama, could Linklater achieve anything that couldn’t have been achieved with makeup and alternative actors? Of course he could.

Relating a plot for a Linklater movie is a largely redundant exercise but for the sake of some structure, it goes broadly like this: Mason’s family consist of his mostly absent father Mason Snr. (Ethan Hawke), his student / lecturer mum Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater - daughter of the director). Dad drifts in and out of Mason’s life, appearing on random weekends in his sports car to collect the kids and take them bowling. Mom spends her time being romanced by a variety of truly horrible men whom she marries then divorces when their inevitable violent side starts to make an appearance. And Samantha is a typical sister.

And it’s the last bit that probably sums up this movie. There are moments that could have been plucked form a standard coming of age drama - such as Mason’s art teacher giving him a pep talk in a dark room - but for the most part, Linklater just follows what typical kids would do and see. There is a complete lack of grandstanding of any type and the myriad of individual moments slip by easily, aggregating perfectly into a half remembered view of youth - Linklater has stated that he wanted the movie to be a collection of memories from childhood and he absolutely achieves that goal.

As with his best movies, Linklater sprinkles earth shattering moments, presented almost as a documentary, with little pause to assess the gravity of the situation (think the moment when Celine returns to the hotel room for the second time in Before Midnight, this time pointedly slapping the keycard down on the sideboard before leaving, presumably for the last time). So we get brief snatches of violence or threat from Olivia’s abusive husbands but in the case of the second violent suitor, he doesn’t even merit a leaving scene, one minute there, the next minute a bad memory.

With his central casting choice, Linklater is either a casting genius or got extremely lucky. Coltrane is a superb young actor and grows from a cute kid into a wisp of a handsome young man. It’s difficult to avoid the impression that Linklater is living through his character as the young Texan kid becomes a wistful, artistic idealist. If it’s an indulgence, it’s easily forgiven, the destination is never the point here, the joy is in the journey. Throughout Coltrane displays a maturity in his acting that is genuinely impressive. 

Alongside him though he has strong company, particularly in the wonderful Arquette. The wrong time of year to talk about awards but surely, her performance here will be worthy of a nod? Arquette’s Olivia is a picture of ambition brought to a screaming halt by early motherhood but she refuses to take the variety of knocks sent her way lying down and gets up from the floor repeatedly. It’s a role that will strike a chord with many mothers of a similar age and one that contains probably the movie’s most powerful scene - as Mason packs for college, Olivia, faced with her now empty nest, breaks down at the kitchen table ‘I just thought there would be more…’ she exclaims through tears. Mason stands by with his possessions, entirely unsure of how to deal with his strong mother finally cracking. If you don’t well up at that, you’re dead inside.

Boyhood adds up to far more than the sum of its experimental, run of the mill parts. It isn’t going to hit you with any stunning set piece revelations but what it does brilliantly is give you a young boy’s eye view of memories collected over his most formative years. All the little things that gradually accumulate in the background - some half forgotten, some blazing bright in your past - until you get a wonderfully touching view of adolescence. It’s arguably slightly too long and at times, the ‘action’ does drag but you still have to praise the director and his team for getting twelve years worth of life into 166 minutes. Linklater remains one of the silver screen’s brightest and boldest stars. Always looking for something slightly different whilst keeping his work brilliantly grounded in relatable ideas. His latest is touching, funny, heartbreaking and life affirming with two absolutely standout performances from two very different actors.

Check out the trailer here.

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