Allow me to cut to the chase – Boyhood is one of the essential films of the year so far. Have you seen it yet? If not, load up on snacks and hasten to your local cinema. Watching it propelled me back to the long-forgotten moments of childhood – the fleeting heroes, the moronic teenage rites of passage, the quest for recognition, the end-of-the-world broken hearts, and of course, the traumatic haircuts.
It wouldn’t spoil anyone’s fun to reveal that Boyhood tells the story of a young boy, Mason Jr, growing up from childhood to adulthood and was shot in 39 days over 12 years. From inception, Linklater planned to call it 12 Years, until Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave became the breakout hit of 2013 – a hasty renaming was in order.
But Boyhood’s achievement isn’t simply in its storytelling, the film – weighing in at a barely noticeable two hours and 46 minutes – documents an era, not just a fictional family. The passage of time is neatly signposted by the ever-changing soundtrack. Is it really 14 years since Coldplay’s “Yellow” was released?
In an age when technology makes everything instant, we seem to be losing touch with the long game, the slow boil, the bigger picture. Linklater’s film not only shows that there is great worth in taking your time but he has also managed to capture that transition period over the past 12 years where life has changed almost unrecognisably. Childhood dramas of varying gravity come and go, all told with an understated hand and elegant style. Linklater’s long-term muse Ethan Hawke plays a father with wit and charm, and portraying Mason’s mother is Patricia Arquette, who must surely be owed several backdated Best Actress awards. The film also acts as a love letter to Linklater’s home town of Austin, where he still remains based, despite the siren calls of Hollywood.
Linklater has to be applauded for his incredible vision in pulling off this feat of production – to cast four actors with a story arc that plays out in such a sprawling timeframe takes a leap of faith and a level of trust and kinship that goes beyond most six-week film shoots (the fact that his daughter has a lead role couldn’t have hurt the process).
Intensely moving, beautifully paced, lovingly edited – it’s a satisfying watch that taps into that most elusive of topics – the wonder of childhood. Make sure you see it before the hype overwhelms this charming film.
Paul Noble is a producer for Monocle 24.