Boyhood, the new film from Richard Linklater, took 12 years to make. It may well take another 12 years to appreciate fully. The coming-of-age drama film was produced on a small budget of only $4 million and has scored back ten times that amount at the box office. Shot intermittently over an eleven year period from 2002 until 2013, we’re treated to a truly unique experience as we watch the talented Ellar Coltrane literally grow up right before our eyes. Co-star Ethan Hawke remarked on this captivating approach by saying “It’s a little bit like time-lapse photography of a human being.” The lengthy 165 minute narrative follows six year old Coltrane until he sets of for college 12 years later. Forced to undergo all of the awkward and embarrassing phases of adolescence and puberty in a feature film can’t be easy, but Coltrane is an endearing and relatable protagonist. Again alongside him is Patricia Arquette as his determined mother, Lorelei Linklater as the typical older sister and Hawke as the absent ex-husband and dad. This core group turn in some excellent performances, which really carry emotional weight as their lives drift from milestone to another. Plenty of other characters flow in and out too, and much like real life: they don’t always get a proper introduction or goodbye, they merely exist as players in the story for a few scenes, never to be heard from again. Thanks to its interesting production calendar, a large majority of the R-rated involved as they filmed, resulting in an organic narrative. Patricia Arquette has won the best supporting actress Oscar for her 12-year stint on Richard Linklater’s Boyhood.
Indeed “Boyhood” is very inconsistently placed; moving through the grade school years within 30 minutes, but spending over 90 minutes when Ellar finally attends high school. Throughout the movie we follow Coltrane as he deals with a parade of dysfunctional father figures, drugs, girlfriends, videogames, moving away from home and discovering his ambitions. No matter how or where you are raised, there are aspects of his character everyone can identify with. He’s not the strongest kid, or confident teenager. He’s just the average American boy experiencing the struggle of growing up. The events of his turbulent upbringing unravel in small vignettes. They’re an honest view of life; perfectly encapsulating the ups and down of childhood.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t end on a high note, but instead drags for another 15 minutes that fail to add any real value to the story. Linklater’s steady and unobtrusive cinematography allows the talented actors to dictate the energy and direction of each scene. With no original score of its own, the film smartly includes plenty of popular music from across the years; quickly providing context to when each moment takes place. It’s weird to call any story set during the 21st century a “period” film, but that’s precisely what this feels like.
Definitely worth seeing at least once, if not for its incredible film-making methods, than for its compelling characters. Although it lacks focus, this is an effortless narrative that has a nostalgic quality to itself which is hard to ignore. “Boyhood” utilizes unique techniques to craft a wonderful experience about growing up. It’s an emotionally affecting film with a big beating heart, and Linklater shows us that indeed life is in the little details.