Filmed over a twelve year period using the same cast, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is impossible to discuss without at least mentioning how it was completed. This wasn’t a case of special effects wizardry. Instead, the cast and crew gathered annually to film for several days, and then resumed their lives, and other projects. This technique has been used in documentaries, most famously in Michael Apted’s Up Series—which has followed the lives of fourteen British children since 1964, when they were seven years old—but no fictional film has attempted this approach. While it could have been seen as a gimmick, Linklater and his cast have done a wonderful job of creating a beautiful, and unique coming of age story.
Fans of Linklater’s Before trilogy are already aware of his fascination with the passage of time. Here, he takes it a step further, chronicling the life of one boy from age six to age eighteen, allowing us to watch as lead actor Ellar Coltrane literally grows up before our eyes. While Coltrane is clearly the main character, Linklater wisely keeps his parents and older sister firmly in focus, making Boyhood not just about a young man’s coming of age, but an entire family’s evolution over a twelve year period.
As the story begins, six-year-old Mason (Coltrane) is living in a small town in East Texas, with his older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), and his single mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette), who is struggling to find her financial footing. Olivia decides to move the family to Houston, so she can attend college, and get a job. The move results in occasional visits from the kids estranged dad Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), who acts like little more than a kid himself. He takes them out to do fun stuff though, almost acting as an antidote to their mom, who is the disciplinarian, and deals with the tough stuff.
Olivia certainly struggles with the lack of a real father figure in her children’s lives. As the years pass, Olivia moves around Texas, engaging in marriages to men who eventually develop into full blown alcoholics, and with it, their propensity for abuse. Despite all of this, Olivia does manage to get her master’s degree and become a professor.
Without a stable male figure in his life, Mason is left clinging to the few hours here and there, he does get to spend with his father. In the midst of all this, Mason must deal with the usual challenges of growing up: school, peer pressure, and girls. We see his life begin to take shape. Even though there are a few bumps along the way, Mason is basically a good kid as he makes his way toward high school graduation.
Even his father, goes through a maturation of his own, evolving from a man tearing around in a sports car without seatbelts, to a family man with a minivan and devout Christian in-laws. While Hawke’s participation is limited the kids go for long stretches without seeing him), his work is impressive, and he seems to have genuine chemistry with both Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater. Hawke makes his characters evolution so believable, it’s almost as if, in a sense, father and son are growing up together.
For Olivia, the end of the film results in a realization. After devoting most of her life to her kids, the end result is losing them to the bigger world. It’s a bittersweet moment, really. As she sees it, the only milestone she has left is her funeral. If Boyhood has a core theme, perhaps it’s that coming of age isn’t necessarily a process marked by big events, but a series of smaller ones that happen on a day-to-day basis.
Richard Linklater has created something special here. He shown the maturation, and emotional development of children onscreen, never once attempting to over dramatize or simplify the events on screen.
Framed in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Paramount has provided a fairly stable 1080p transfer. Detail is steady, if not particularly lifelike. The image can be a tad soft in spots, but generally it’s quite strong revealing facial structures, clothing, and other close-up elements nicely. Colors are presented evenly, and look crisp throughout. Skin tones vary with the light, often looking a bit warmer than expected. Black levels vary, but never to the point of distraction. Some occasional crush is noticeable, but it doesn’t distract from the overall viewing experience.
Boyhood features a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack. In this dialogue heavy film, the mix itself is fairly straightforward. Dialogue flows evenly from the center channel, with no discernible flaws. Music isn’t particularly immersive, but it feels right. The track provides minimal ambient effects via the back channels. While the track isn’t a forceful one, it handles the material rather well.
English, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- The 12 Year Project (HD, 19:11) A discussion of the films origins, casting, themes, actor transformations, the unique shooting schedule, and more. In a way, viewing this is like watching a mini version of the film.
- Q&A with Richard Linklater and the Cast (HD, 52:38) From the Cinefamily Screening at the Silent Movie Theater, Los Angeles, California, June 15, 2014, Richard Linklater, Lorelei Linklater, Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, and Ethan Hawke discuss the film in depth. It’s interesting to hear about the actor’s commitment to the project, its themes, and more.
- DVD of the film.
- UV Digital Copy.
- iTunes Digital Copy.