Cast: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and Lorelei Linklater.
Plot summary: Six year-old Mason (Coltrane) lives with his mom (Arquette) and sister Samantha (Linklater) in Texas, Dad (Hawke) having recently left. We follow his and the family’s life over the next 12 years, as boy becomes man.
On paper, a film following the life of an young boy from the age of 6 to 18 hardly sounds original. What makes this film special is how it was made. Rather than casting several actors to play the same character (which is distracting at the best of times), director Richard Linklater decided to shoot the film over the course of 12 years with the same actors in their roles. Each year, they would shoot a short segment covering pivotal events in the characters’ lives before eventually editing them together into a full-length film. The end result is a truly authentic portrayal of family life that is both touching and life-affirming.
As the film’s protagonist Mason, newcomer Ellar Coltrane delivers a wonderfully naturalistic performance. He should be applauded for his 12 year commitment to the role alone. Watching him grow up before your very eyes, through every phase and rite of passage, is astonishing. The adult actors also deserve praise. Ethan Hawke is terrific as Mason’s father and the genuine chemistry he has with Coltrane is one of the film’s main strengths. Patricia Arquette also delivers a strong performance as Mason’s mother and she’s not afraid to show off her character’s flaws. The only weak link in the cast is Lorelei Linklater, who plays Mason’s older sister Samantha. Unlike Coltrane, her performance while charming at first becomes increasingly mannered as the film progresses.
Although the film’s running time clocks in at 166 minutes, it’s constantly engaging throughout (I’ve seen films that are only half as long that have bored me senseless). On a technical level, the editing is on point and the cinematography is simple yet stunning. And, the soundtrack is an eclectic mix of hits from the past and present; from Coldplay to Arcade Fire to Soulja Boy (yes that song with the dance routine and questionable lyrics).
Funny, heartwarming and nostalgic, Boyhood is an unique film experience that will stay with you long after you leave the cinema.