Directed by Richard Linklater
Boyhood opens with a shot of the sky from the point of view of a tousle-haired kid lying in the grass. That may seem to lay down the track for Richard Linklater’s twelve-years-in-the-making magnum opus, bearing out the title’s down-home lyricism and particular focus. But the daydream is immediately complicated by a cut to the boy’s mother walking up and rounding a corner to meet him after school. You can imagine him listening to her steps, and knowing just how long it’ll take her to reach him, yet at the same time, you watch her casually confident stride, its lightfootedness suggesting an open mind and somehow pointing to the future, and so learn a bit about her, too.
That subtly filtered perspective, evoking the layers of literary discourse, is typical of the film, which is much more than a fictional stunt on the Up! documentary series. Though pegged to one Mason (Ellar Coltrane), Boyhood is also very much Motherhood (thanks to Patricia Arquette’s career-topping performance), not to mention Fatherhood (via Ethan Hawke), with glimpses of Girlhood through Mason’s sister, Sam (Lorelei Linklater). Much of Mason’s Texas childhood is punctuated and tracked through Mom’s re-marriages to jerks and hangouts with soliloquizing Dad, in addition to seeing him feel out his own roles (friend, son, worker, boyfriend). Linklater devotes the most time to Mason’s (and Coltrane’s) teenage years, and while that might be partly a result of the unusually intermittent shoots—and perhaps some tipping point when everyone realized it could all actually work—it also reflects special sympathies for the self-awareness and questioning that shadows a personality like Mason’s during adolescence.
Mason’s is a liberal family, his mom studying and becoming a teacher, his rambling dad settling down into a religious family, which leads to grandparental gifts of gun and Bible (eliciting a couple of hilarious gasps at my press screening). Remarkably seamless for its production circumstances—the casting a great leap of faith, especially considering one is Linklater’s daughter—Boyhood drifts clear of magic-of-childhood idyll or divorce drama, sustaining longer-term emotional contours and its own moving study in memory. The director of the Before trilogy, Waking Life, and other deceptively free-form experiments is often pegged as having a fixation on time, but another way of looking at him is one of our great American diarists, in a tradition stretching back to the age of Emerson. That reflective tendency, and openness to philosophizing, doesn’t preclude a deft feel for what’s experienced in a moment of fear or wonder or joy, even as lanky Mason grows into a reflexive, perhaps divorce-influenced casualness towards conflict.
Linklater’s soundtrack (opening with Coldplay wallpaper “Yellow”) isn’t meant to be good music, it’s the music that was there. And it’s a feat that the film does not feel constrained by the different times of its creation (for which dangers just look at any given local newscast from five or ten years ago), even as Linklater shapes the tone for many scenes as they might be imprinted upon Mason’s memory for metonymic recollection later. Yet as a late scene of Mason leaving home and Mom reconfirms—in an echo of that opening sequence’s shared perception that underlines this as partly a deeply felt appreciation of mothers—Boyhood belongs to a greater flow of experience than any one individual’s.
Opens July 11 at IFC Center