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More than a childhood, ‘Boyhood’ took 12 years, and tells moving story

February 17th, 2014 Posted in Arts and Life

By Paul Christiansen

PARK CITY, Utah — The Sundance Film Festival has been host to many beautiful and inventive films over the years, but few have been as groundbreaking and inventive as director Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” the story of a boy growing from a child into a teenager, from an adolescent into an adult.

The cast of ‘Boyhood’ remember their own lives making it.

The cast of ‘Boyhood’ remember their own lives making it.

Linklater said the idea for the film came from his desire to map out a timeline that properly focuses on the changes that happen between youth and adulthood. But such a task, he said, left him unsure of where to begin.

“I wanted to do something about childhood, but I couldn’t find one moment I had enough to say about,” Linklater said after the film’s screening at Sundance 2014. Linklater, after much consideration, came up with an idea that, he said, is unconventional in the filmmaking business.

“Why couldn’t you just film a little bit each year and encompass all of it?”

The result is a film shot over a 12-year period using the same cast members. It’s entirely believable to speculate that such techniques will not be used again. Each year, for only a handful of days, Linklater and the actors captured and portrayed the story of a family and how it evolved as more than a decade passed by.

The film focuses on many of the small and intimate moments in the family members’ day-to-day lives, reflecting on the difficulty of being a child stuck in the middle of divorced parents. At the forefront is Mason (Ellar Coltrane), the character who must go through this transition from which the film takes its name. The story chronicles the relationships Mason forms with his older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter), his struggling, single mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette), who wants desperately to improve her life and the lives of her two children, and his absentee father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), a devil-may-care musician who works odd jobs when it suits him.

While it would have been predictable — and likely preferable to a more mainstream audience — for Linklater to focus on the relationship between Mason Sr. and Olivia, perhaps even exploring a potential reconciliation, the director takes a different and commendable approach. Skipping to seemingly ordinary points in the characters’ lives each year, Linklater showcases moments that capture the most history from a story told across 12 years—haircuts, schools, moves to different apartments and houses, talks about politics with Mason Sr. and the tragedies of Olivia’s two abusive marriages.

Mason and Samantha go on to take part in the experiences of teenagers — encounters with drugs, alcohol and sex — and pass through these events without the tragedy or drama that runs rampant in lesser films. While the entire cast’s acting is fantastic — most noticeable is Marco Perella’s portrayal of Olivia’s alcoholic and abusive husband, Bill, and his ability to make the audience hate him — the movie is delivered through Coltrane and follows Mason’s maturation throughout the first 18 years of his life. The story ends on his first day of college and leaves the audience both satisfied with what they’ve just seen and hopeful for a person they’ve forgotten is fictitious.

Like life, “Boyhood” has moments that are dull and mundane, but those moments are quickly done away with as the character encounters new experiences that grab the audience members by the heart, through both lighthearted humor and earnest empathy, and hold on. Linklater doesn’t seek to create dramatic moments that are over the top; rather, he shows the momentum of a stone rolling down a hill, examining the incidents that individuals too often overlook in their own lives.

In its entirety the film is a beautiful, strange and nearly unimaginable examination of what it means to take life as it comes. From moments of heartbreak and sadness to those that illustrate true triumph, “Boyhood” is a remarkable accomplishment that will leave anyone with a feeling of individual fulfillment.


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