Sometimes movies are bland, boring, rushed and nonsensical. They are made to turn an investment into profit. Other times a story is so rich that is carves a small place in your heart, nudged fondly beside the classics. And in truth, with no exaggeration, Boyhood is a modern classic. Three months have passed since my first screening as part of NovaStream’s coverage of the Sydney Film Festival. Before the film a scruffy teen walked in front of a theatre of thousands and waved awkwardly.
The star of the film, Ellar Coltrane, was on another leg of his world tour after widespread acclaim at the Sundance International Film Festival. He didn’t appear to be a rockstar or a bigwig actor. He just seemed like an extremely genuine and humble person. The lights dimmed and he shuffled offstage and did not return. The acclaim is universal. Rotten Tomatoes awards Boyhood 99%, the same rate as the Wizard of Oz and one step down from Citizen Kane and Toy Story 2 and one above Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. It has won multiple awards at Sundance, SXSW, Berlin, Seattle and San Francisco International Film Festivals. A previous cover photo on the film’s Facebook page lists reviewers quotes beginning with “the best film of the…”. USA Today said the summer, Rolling Stone gave it a year, The Guardian believed a decade and The New York Times stated the century. At the end of the century they may be correct. Filming occurred usually four days a year over twelve years, wit
h Ellar Coltrane originally portraying a six year old child and gradually growing into an adult on screen. This allows the scope of the film to be far greater and the narrative to flow more authentically, save casting a different actor for the schoolyard scenes and the college scenes. The aesthetic of the film also shifts almost glacially, from fashion to furniture to language to politics. One thing that stood out for me was the technology, progressing from a Gameboy to a PlayStation 3 to an XBOX One seamlessly. Not even the set designers of Downton Abbey could replicate this level of detail. Many elements of Coltrane’s real-life slipped into the film too, including his first car, his piercings and a bad string of acne he chose not to cover up. Director Richard Linklater (School of Rock) stated he never asked Coltrane to do something he knew the actor hadn’t previously experienced. The four primary characters are Mason Jr (Ellar Coltrane), his mother Olivia (Medium’s Patricia Arquette), his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, daughter of director Richard Linklater) and Mason Sr (Ethan Hawke, Predestination).
Their plot is simple – make it through as best you can with the hand you’ve been dealt. For Olivia in particular this is heartbreaking as a string of unhealthy and outright dangerous relationships culminates in a confronting scene between herself and Mason. The film is not a depressant though. There are comedy bites here and there and the tone is generally upward, especially in scenes with Mason Sr. Ethan Hawke is a fiercely talented actor and his secondary plot gives his a nice avenue, transforming the musician father with a muscle car into a worker with a minivan. At the beginning of Boyhood the adults are only slightly older than the children at the film’s conclusion. There is definitely a full circle trope going on. There is an intangible warmth to the film that cannot be assigned to the everyday blockbuster.
Each shot looks like a painting and there is an obtuse or inventive shot to enhance the story. The edit is smoother and kinder. A great deal of care went into every detail of this film. Due to the original filming method the financiers were limited and contracts were zilch. It was the cast’s prerogative each and every year to return and each of the primary cast have called this their ‘cool summer camp’ despite having other films and television shows in progress.
While I would easily rank this inside by top five films of all time, there is one beat that struck me foul. A conversation between Mason and a high school photographer teacher about the difference between potential and actuality was immensely irritating. It felt redundant and shoehorned.
Aside from that, the scope, commitment of all involved, acting talent and direction all make for a compelling adventure. The international releases are still rolling out with Paramount International acquiring the rights to a hopefully broader home release.
Review by Mark Halyday