By James Mackney, Film & TV critic
Boyhood has the tonal feel of wandering across Hungerford bridge at 2am, you know you could walk across prettier bridges but you’re here for the view and you can see everything from Hungerford bridge. There may have been more exciting coming of age films than Boyhood but very few achieve this level of sophistication.
Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a sterling achievement and one that took me a while to take in. I will admit that when I left the cinema I was slightly underwhelmed, all the hype and rush of critic positivity had perhaps tarred it, it was a good film in my eyes but not the masterpiece I had hoped for.
Over the next few days the film didn’t leave my mind, popping up and reminding me of a small moment, most of which I had passed me by whilst watching it.
Seeing Ellar Coltrane play Mason from the age of 7 through the shaggy haired years to his broken hearted moments and concluding in him becoming a slightly assured and hopeful 18 year old was a delight. Linklater’s decision to use the same actors over the course of 11 years cannot be understated. They bring a level of authenticity to the film that would have been lost if the traditional device of different actors for different ages had been employed. You get swallowed up in the euphoria of seeing Mason achieve and despair in seeing him suffer.
Most of the suffering comes from the let downs of step fathers that Mason has to endure. The university professor who offers only a forced relationship and ends up becoming dangerous and the Army veteran who is evidently having a hard enough time adjusting to his own life as Mason is to his. The latter is not a bad step father per se, it is just that Mason doesn’t need him. This comes to a head on the porch of the family home when Mason comes home late from a party, an understated, normal moment that is devastating.
The performances of Hawke and Arquette are exquisite, throwing themselves into their parental roles and consuming them completely. They are not acting really, just behaving within a context. Some of the acting is uneven, Mason’s sister Samantha, played by Linklater’s actual daughter Lorelei is at times stiff but this is a minor fault. Lorelei asked her father to kill off her character when returning one year but Linklater refused and you can see why, a moment such as that would’ve distorted the film into something else entirely and the narrative of a normal, often inconsequential, life would no longer be achievable.
The narrative doesn’t go for big set piece moments and in fact it could be levelled at Linklater that he has kept it too quiet. Although the inclusion of an unplanned home run at a baseball game was a nice touch.
Mason is not a mans man. He isn’t a mini-Don Draper or Ron Swanson and he is growing up in a decade where manliness isn’t an obvious call to arms, where My Chemical Romance go platinum and ultimately he is just trying to grow up as well as he is able.
Over the course of the two-hour-and-40-minute-long narrative, this coming of age narrative is a joy of collaborative artistic experiment that hits more than it misses. Boyhood has a documentary style hook and an engaging narrative littered with tiny moments of excellence. A fine, life affirming film.