Linklater’s New Film “Boyhood” a Real Grown-up Treat.

Ellar Coltrane in "Boyhood".

Ellar Coltrane in “Boy­hood”.

Boy­hood pulls off a rare feat. It’s a film that works and real­ly engages despite being based on a gim­mick. The gim­mick in ques­tion is one of those things that must have sound­ed like a good idea at the time.

Take a cou­ple of chil­dren, and a cou­ple of adults, and film them in a hand­ful of scenes once a year, for twelve years.

The more you think about that, the more the whole thing should have fall­en flat on its face. The rea­son that it all works so won­der­ful­ly well is because of the way that Richard Lin­klater makes these kind of films, his per­son­al ones as opposed to the ones he makes for the studio.

As we have seen in what we have to call the Before series, as by now there have been three of them (to date), Sun­rise, Sun­set and Mid­night (reviewed ear­li­er here), he and his actors work­shop their scenes exhaus­tive­ly, in a sort of anti Ken Loach man­ner. So that instead of being in any way impro­vised, the films evolve from a script that has been writ­ten with­in an inch of its life.

Ch ch ch changes...

Ch ch ch changes…

By the time the actors come to film their scenes, they know their char­ac­ters and why they are doing what they are doing inside out. And any impro­vi­sa­tion comes from the per­for­mance, and not thank­ful­ly from the sto­ry telling.

The main dif­fer­ence between Before and Boy­hood isn’t so much the time frame, as it is the focus of atten­tion. In the­o­ry at least, as the title sug­gests, it’s the sto­ry of a boy’s jour­ney from sev­en years old to 19. Which could have been hor­ri­bly saccharine.

And there’s no ques­tion that the film isn’t quite as gut-wrench­ing­ly unfor­giv­ing of its char­ac­ters as Before Mid­night was, because Lin­klater is under­stand­ably less inclined to put his child actors through the emo­tion­al mill in quite the same way that he is with his adults.

But the rea­son that the film works so well is because in real­i­ty it offers a twin per­spec­tive. On the one hand there are the two chil­dren, of ordi­nary par­ents, and the way in which their lives seem to be imposed upon them from with­out. Sud­den­ly they are forced to move, and start a new school, and they’ve a new father, and then it’s all over again, and they have to move and start all over, again.

The teenage Coltrane with Zoe Graham.

The teenage Coltrane with Zoe Graham.

And on the oth­er, there’s a guy and a girl who are find­ing it hard enough at becom­ing adults, and now they have to bring up a cou­ple of kids at the same time. And the gap between what they’d hoped their lives would become, and the lives they are being forced to live just to make ends meet, is get­ting ever wider and increas­ing­ly unbridge­able. None of it is anyone’s fault. And yet they all blame each other.
All the per­for­mances are stun­ning. And yes the two kids Ellar Coltr­tane and Lorelei Lin­klater are amaz­ing. But it’s the adults Ethan Hawke and espe­cial­ly Patri­cia Arquette as the moth­er that gives this film its sub­stance. The weight of moth­er­hood is all too vis­i­ble as she lit­er­al­ly ages before our eyes.

Richard Lin­klater is one of the very few seri­ous film mak­ers work­ing today. And Boy­hood is anoth­er triumph.

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