Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is an enormous achievement. The film follows the life of a boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane) for twelve years, and Linklater chose to make the film over the full twelve years, so we watch Mason (and Ellar) and the entire cast grow and change before our eyes. Twelve years. Think of the ambition of that premise, the patience and perseverance required to shepherd such a project into being. Is there another filmmaker working who could have seen it through? What does it say about Linklater that the cast made the commitment and trusted him to follow through?
The struggle of much of narrative film is to capture a sense of verisimilitude, to have us believe that we are peering into real people’s lives. I don’t believe any other filmmaker has come as close as Linklater.
Linklater presents seasons of Mason’s life that allow us to watch the development of this young person in a way no other film has achieved or will likely achieve again. We watch him try to make sense of the estrangement of his parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke). We watch him and his older sister (Samantha Linklater) try to adjust to their step-fathers and negotiate the complexity of living in blended families. We watch the open love and trust of childhood shift into the sullen, mumbling awkwardness of adolescence and then blossom into the thoughtfulness and self-reflection of young adulthood. Mason is a good kid, but he defies the notion that a protagonist must be “special” in some way. His struggle with his ordinariness and his drive to somehow find a way to be more in a world that often tells you not only that you can’t but that you mustn’t are very moving.
I can’t say enough about how wonderful this film is. It runs 2 hours and 45 minutes, but it doesn’t feel long. If you haven’t seen it, I hope you’ll track it down and give it a watch.