We all know a kid we’ve watched grow up. Whether a sibling or child, relative or friend, we’ve all witnessed time pass in the life of one person or another. This simple idea is the premise behind Richard Linklater’s life-spanning drama Boyhood.
Filmed over the course of twelve years, Boyhood follows Mason (Ellar Coltrane) through the most important years of his life, from a young boy to a young adult starting college. Living with his mom (Patricia Arquette), sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and the occasional appearance from his father (Ethan Hawke), Mason learns exactly what it’s like to grow up, and we get to witnesses the entire cast age twelve years in the span of three hours.
Before seeing Boyhood, all I knew was that the film was shot over twelve years. That’s what everyone kept saying. But it’s how writer/director Richard Linklater went about filming and presenting the timespan that makes the movie so different.
There are no dates written on the screen to tell the audience when events occur. But there is music. The film opens to the song “Yellow” by Coldplay, and moments later, when Mason is rudely awoken by his sister Sam to her own rendition of “Oops!…I Did It Again” by Britney Spears, we know it’s the year 2000. Later, when mother and children move cities for the first time, Cheryl Crow’s “Soak Up The Sun” can be heard, and when their father comes to see them for the first time in years, at the end of their day together, “Do You Realize??” by The Flaming Lips drifts from the dad’s car radio (now it’s 2002). The movie’s soundtrack is a musical time capsule.
However, music is not the only thing that helps the audience keep time. We know it’s 2008 when Mason, Sam and their dad go canvassing the neighborhood in support of Barack Obama. We can see Sam getting annoyed when she’s chastised for not picking Mason up from school when he’s in 8th grade, and we watch as their dad shows up with his new wife and baby daughter. We can see how much the family has changed.
Yet, the best thing in this movie is that the family changes because the cast stays the same. The whole cast. We see Patricia Arquette (who recently won Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards for this role), as their mother, struggle as mothers do. We watch her strive to give the best life to her kids, go through two failed marriages and still manage to get both her kids into college and secure a collegiate teaching position for herself. We see her hair change, her weight fluctuate and her attitude morph.
We see Ethan Hawke (who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role), as their father, take over a decade to become a better parent. We watch him come in and out of his children’s lives, go from being a once a year dad to a weekend dad and eventually grow up enough to have his own wife and family. We see his childish looks fade over time as he embraces the role of the responsible man he was meant to be.
We see Lorelei Linklater (director Richard Linklater’s daughter), as Mason’s sister Sam, develop into a mature young woman. We watch her go from bratty older sister to an indifferent teen to a hipster college student. We see her gossip with friends, dye her hair, get piercings and get hungover.
And finally we see Ellar Coltrane as Mason. We watch Mason grow. From reading Harry Potter books with his mom to getting pissed off at being forced to get a haircut. From learning about sex to having sex. From having a girlfriend to getting his heart broken. From tagging graffiti as a kid to becoming a photographer. We hear his voice crack, see him sprout a couple inches through puberty and watch him develop facial hair. We watch him go from a boy to a man.
Boyhood is a movie for the ages. Instead of having different actors cast for various ages throughout one character’s life, we are privileged to see the same people metamorphosize into the people they are today. Boyhood isn’t just about boyhood. It’s a movie about…well…life.