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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“Before Midnight” is the Latest Instalment in this Captivating Saga.

Before Midnight.

Before Midnight.

Midnight is the third (so far) in the series of Before films that Richard Linklater has made with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Before Sunrise introduced us to the pair of barely 20 year olds who fell madly in love over an evening in Vienna, before being forced to part the following morning.

10 years later they meet again in Paris in Before Sunset. And once again, if more quietly now, sparks fly. Before Midnight visits them ten years on, in their early 40s. After Paris, Jesse left his wife and son, and he and Celine have been together ever since. And this finds them on the last night of their summer holiday in Greece where they’ve been with their twins.

Although the scripts are carefully and precisely written, Linklater, Hawke and Delpy workshopped all three instalments extensively together. The result is a trio of films that glide along with deceptive ease. And it would be easy to miss quite how impeccably crafted and immaculately performed the three stories are.

Delpy and Hawke in Before Sunrise.

Delpy and Hawke in Before Sunrise.

Or at least it might have been in the first two. By the time we get to Before Midnight, it’s impossible not be bowled over by the depths of raw emotion on display and the sheer force of the artistry involved.

Similar in tone, approach and impact to Bergman’s greatest film, Scenes From A Marriage, this third instalment in the Before saga is not just one of the best films of the year. It’s a personal triumph for Linklater, Hawke and Delpy. And I can’t wait to find out how they’re all getting on in ten years’ time. You can see the Before Midnight trailer here.

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