Mason Jr is a 6 year old boy living at home with his single mother Olivia and his sister, 8 year old Samantha. Live is as you would expect; bedtime stories, hanging out with friends, going to school and dealing with Mum's annoying boyfriend. However, Olivia announces that they are moving to Houston to allow her to go to college. From there, the life of Mason Jr is tracked over the next twelve years as he grows from a boy into a man. We see him as he meets new friends, spends every other weekend with his father, dealing with his sister and his Mum's new husband(s), all the while growing up and deciding where his future lies...
We live in a fantastic time. We have computers the size of TV remotes in our pockets which can access the world's information just by saying "OK Google", we're more affluent and free in our choices and decisions than we ever have been as a society, and we live in a time where Richard Linklater is making films. What an amazing director who doesn't get nearly enough credit when he deserves tons and tons of it. He began his career making Slacker and Dazed and Confused, two films which inspired a number of generation X'ers to become film makers, and films which audiences continue to adopt and identify with to this day. Since then, Linklater has been a writer and director of films which continue to show modern American life and its quirks through unique characters and situations. His Before trilogy has been met with wild acclaim throughout all 3 films, he brought us Jack Black's revival in Bernie and entertained millions with School of Rock. However, it was during the filming of School of Rock that he embarked on a passion project that would consume his life for the next 12 years: The brilliant Boyhood.
Ethan Hawke described the making of this as the cast and crew getting together for a month every year and making 12 short films in 12 years. It doesn't feel like that. Despite the massive time gaps between filming dates, everything you see is one coherent narrative, it never falters or stutters. It's an extraordinary achievement to be able to craft a cohesive film from 12 years of filming, considering regular films that go into extra time filming often feel disjointed. I give massive credit to the continuity editors for getting everything right (apart from one scene, where each shot is clearly filmed at a different time of day and probably during a different filming period also). That one scene aside, everything else is spot on and it's a fascinating story of a young man growing up with a series of challenges to face and decisions to make. I think what makes this film work is that Linklater doesn't rush things, he realises real drama takes time to unfold and evolve and uses his 12 year time frame to great effect. It's a whole life story, and encompasses all aspects of Mason Jr's life from his home life with his mum, sister and absent dad, to his school life, to his friends and relationships. Boyhood becomes one of those films that is immediately identifiable with a large majority of its audience, simply because of how much ground it covers in almost 3 hours.
The film is tied together by a stuttering at first, but ultimately strong and confident performance by Ellar Coltrane. As a young boy, he seems reserved and nervous, but he soon grows more confident in front of the camera as he grows up in front of it to the point where he oozes confidence by the time he turns 18 at the end of the film. Equally as impressive is Patricia Arquette, who by the way is seriously underrated as an actress. She sports a few different hairstyles throughout the film due to other TV and film commitments, but the performance remains consistent, which I would argue is a harder job for her and her other adult co-star as they need to be the exact same character for 12 years. Wow. Plus, Arquette's character gets put through the wringer in this film, which makes her strong performance even more impressive. Equally as good is Ethan Hawke. A friend of mine remarked she'd never seen Hawke in a good film, and thinking about it, he's only ever impressed in films made by Mr Linklater, a sign he brings out the best in Ethan and should work with him more regularly. Unfortunately, Lorelei Linklater (try saying that after a few drinks), who plays Samantha, starts off strong as a 6 year old performer but fades into the background as her role is de-emphasized and reduced over the 12 years, to the point where she's almost like a cameo performer by the end instead of a co-star.
It's such an innovative idea to film a feature over multiple years in order to chart the progression of its characters, as well as charting the progression of its child actors, as both actor and character develop and becoming fully functioning adults on camera. The cast is kept small enough so that outside elements do not affect the filming and plot of the film, and each character is given a progressive story arc over the 12 year time period. My only problem with Boyhood is that although it is great to see the development of these human beings on screen, it covers too long of a time period, so no events are really touched upon in great detail, or at least not great enough detail for my liking. You see how Mason Sr becomes a responsible father in his new family, but you never see the satisfying origin story of that, only the result. You never really get to go into depth with Mason Jr's parties or his drug use or his relationship with Sheena as a teenager. It feels like everything is only touched upon, with only really significant human moments with expansive monologues and important milestones being given full screen time. Sometimes, it's about the smaller things in life that make life great. To be honest though, I'm nit picking. I don't envy the task of Sandra Adair, who was tasked with stitching together 12 years of footage into one 3 hour story of life.
Overall, Boyhood is a spectacular achievement in film making, patience, and endurance. To make a film over 12 years is taxing and difficult, keeping the cast together and committed to the project for 12 years without knowing what'll happen in the future is a significant risk (although less so when one of the stars is your daughter), but Linklater persevered and has not only produced a film that tells a coherent, structured, constant narrative, but made a film that shows characters and human beings become people in a way that hasn't been truly possible on film before. The time frame of the production allows for the film's plot lines to evolve over time, actual time rather than movie time, and allows for the dramas to develop more naturally than they would in a blockbuster. I would state that Boyhood is the antithesis of films like Transformers, showing that patience is truly a virtue and sometimes all you need to do is point a camera at life and the drama will reveal itself naturally.