Over the course of 12 years, Boyhood follows Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he grows from young child to young adult, and the challenges he faces along the way.
The story of Boyhood is an interesting one; the film was shot over the course of 12 years, with the cast and crew coming together once a year to shoot scenes. The ambition of the film is hard to deny, and it is fascinating to watch an actor grow and change over the years. The trouble is that it is sometimes hard to tell whether the project or the story is more interesting.
Ellar Coltrane does a great job as the central character Mason. Throughout the film we see him come to terms with his family life, his choices in life and the ideas he has for himself. While Coltrane is an engaging actor who seems utterly unselfconscious throughout, it is hard to shake the feeling that safe choices were made in terms of the experiences he goes through. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette play Mason’s parents, and each is engaging and relatable, while Lorelei Linklater plays Mason’s older sister Samantha, and does a great job of torturing and nurturing her on screen sibling.
It would be interesting to read Linklater’s screenplay for the film, while watching the finished product, one can’t help but wonder whether the screenplay changed over the years – perhaps informed by Linklater’s own experiences, or those of his cast – or whether he stuck to his guns the entire time. In terms of choices, however, it does feel as though we are treated to the edited, safer version of the film, as we are allowed to see emotional and potentially scarring events, but rarely see Mason or his family deal with the consequences of upheaval, the loss of friends and family, or the loss of young love. These events are shown, and the audience is left to fish around in their own experience to guess how they impacted the family. As director, Linklater works with his usual light touch; there is rarely a moment that feels forced, and the chemistry between the cast is endearing and warm.
Boyhood is an interesting project that doesn’t always pay off; many events are skipped over or ignored, while others – such as birthday parties and conversations about living an analogue life – go on too long. Ellar Coltrane shines as a young boy, but as he grows older, he is not really given the chance to be anything other than a curiosity. There is surely another film sitting on Boyhood’s cutting room floor, and perhaps this is the one to watch.