Sunday, July 6, 2014

NXNE 2014 Film Review- Boyhood

When we first meet Mason (Ellar Coltrane) he is a pre-schooler living with his single mom (Patricia Arquette) and sharing a bunk bed with his sister Samantha ( Director Richard Linklater's daughter Lorelei). Mason is the typical pre school kid, fighting with his sister collection rocks and animals and meeting in secret with friends. The end of the first act sees the family moving from their small town to Houston so his mother can pursue her education.

Thus begins the opening act of Linklater's unique and compelling film. A piece that shows everyday family events at one moment in time but is so much more that the sum of its individual shots on screen based on the approach and concept of the film. Linklaters concept: Follow a child from pre-school to the first day in college. The twist is that the child will remain the same throughout as will his patents and family. The reality to complete Linklaters vision is a twelve year project that could have been easily derailed by so many different variables.

 The key to the production are the triggers used to mark the passages of time. One is topical political events. At the outset of the film the U.S. is headed to Iraq as reaction to 911 George Bush is the U.S. President and his merits are discussed as the would be at the time mainly by Mason's dad ( Ethan Hawk) who drifts in and out of the production as the action is portrayed on screen. Later on in the film Mason Sr. recruits his kids to volunteer for Barack Obama leading to a memorable scene as the pair put up signs for Obama in a neighbourhood and use interesting tactics to deal with a republican one.

The other big device used is music. Starting with Jeff Tweedy's Summer Noon followed quickly by Cold Pays Yellow music is used as signposts to anchor the viewer into the current time and space of the film.  The same hold true for the last two melodies in the film the hauntingly fitting Family of the Year by Hero and  Deep Blue by Arcade Fire as the closer. Once again Linklater provides a rich vital soundtrack of indie tunes.

The last running device used on Mason himself is haircuts. When one section fades and the next one begins it's the first thing you notice on him that alerts the viewer that something has changed and time has passed.

A film that is shot a few weeks at a time over 12 years is in need of a superior editing job. Linklater's regular editor Sandra Adair does memorable work.  One standout sequence among many in the film is  the transition from discussion between Olivia and perspective new husband  Bill (Marco Perella) about their kids to a scene on a back yard trampoline with all the kids present and familiar showing that once again time has passed and the family's have combined.

Ellar Coltrane is perfectly cast as the lead. While we have seen child actors grow up on screen playing many different roles or repeating the same role over different projects. Coltrane does it all in the same production. Patricia Arquette is the adult rock of the piece as single mom Olivia. She starts out reading to her pre school kids in her bed and night, takes on a new husband to create a family life for her kids with varying results, continues her studies to become a teacher and better herself and family and is suddenly and surprisingly very emotional as her youngest child heads off to school at the end of the production.

Linklater regular Ethan Hawk is solid as dad Mason Senior popping in from time to time on his kids as they move around Texas bringing his perspective on politics and later religion to his offspring.

Boyhood is a once in a generation film. Its patience, perseverance and cinematic storytelling all rolled up into one. Its one actors childhood laid out on screen for all to see. Linknleter does an excellent job presenting the material and this will be a film that will be talked about thought the second half of the year and will be found at the top of many a year end list.  Its a film that I can highly recommend.

**** out of 4.

Boyhood | Richard Linklater | U.S.A. | 2014 | 166 Minutes.

Tags: Childhood, Texas, Politics, Religion, Education, Music, 12 year project, time-lapse.

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