With production formally beginning in 2002, writer/director Richard Linklater’s seminal film Boyhood, otherwise dubbed “The Twelve Year Project”, is an unprecedented cinematic achievement. With cast and crew filming scenes intermittently for fifteen days a year and production taking place between 2002 and 2014, Boyhood has garnered much critical attention. The story begins with the fresh-faced protagonist Mason (Ellar Coltrane) at the young age of six and concludes in his adolescent years at eighteen. Boyhood charts Mason’s journey from childhood into adulthood.
After going through a divorce with her husband Mason Senior (Ethan Hawk), Mason’s mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) is left to care for her son and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) on a shoestring income and without any friends to help out. Following the separation of his parents, Mason’s life turns turbulent and his tale is punctuated by constantly changing father figures and countless disposable friends and acquaintances. His family is forced to move about their home state of Texas in order to remain together. There is much to be learned, however, as Mason discovers the significance of responsibility and maturity in between the drama from his parents, teachers and friends.
Boyhood is certainly a labour of love as much as it is a remarkable achievement in film production. The film endured many pitfalls such as the rather intimidating financial instability that loomed overhead as investment placed in actors, locations and general production was paid off just over a decade later. Indeed, it is hard not to appreciate this colossal feat of organisation and ambition and the titanic amount of critical praise heaped upon this film is warranted.
It is satisfying watching Mason and his sister Samantha grow up and change together as different things become important for them such as romantic relationships, the future and each other. Boyhood makes its audience care for the children by positioning the spectator as a surrogate parent and likewise uses age to provoke feelings and hardships of our own past youth. Mason, however, soon enters a rather frustrating phase that recalls Jake Gyllenhaal’s troubled teen character Donnie Darko from Richard Kelly’s 2001 film of the same name as he apparently knows everything and is highly self-indulgent and very contrary. Granted, this choice does recognise an apparent arrogance endemic in the maturing youth and this makes the characterisation of Mason natural and no less insufferable. He is clearly a golden child who seems to be able to, seemingly effortlessly, achieve almost anything he puts his mind to. Whilst this is an attractive myth, it is a vastly unrealistic and self-obsessive one, and stands out in such a naturalistic piece.
Samantha, played by the director’s daughter, is the same age as Mason and is experiencing many similar issues and changes. Comparatively, the film affords her much less character development. She is a disappointing and somewhat wasted contrast to Mason’s character. The story focuses on the tale of the prodigal boy, meanwhile his sister seems to either join along on the adventure or disappear from it. In numerous scenarios, Samantha acts childishly toward her brother and parents as Mason impassively smirks with an impossible wisdom that excels beyond his boyish years. However, detail about Mason’s and Samantha’s relationship and friendship is seemingly unnecessary as the pair appears to share an unspoken bond throughout the film.
Child actors Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater are noticeably inexperienced in relation to the wider cast of seasoned actors. The lengthy and intermittent production schedule is problematic as it required child actors to a be attached to the film before anyone knew anything about their ability and consequently results in a couple of variable performances from two awkward, inexperienced teenage actors. Whilst this pitfall is far from disastrous and by all means unavoidable given the demands of production, it does represent a blemish in an otherwise worthy film.
Boyhood is a fun, enjoyable film made incredible by the unique history of its production. Whilst the twelve-year trek of its production makes the feature stand out against a backdrop of other passé indie fare, this feat is to be commended and credited to the ingenuity of the many producers involved (including Richard Linklater). Many critics have noted that the twelve-year project should be commended for its stamina alone. It may just be a breath-taking achievement. But the film’s status as an overwhelming epic is misplaced, instead it unfolds as a simple, cathartic story that flows beautifully in all its uniqueness and should be remembered as such.