DIRECTOR: Richard Linklater

CAST: Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater


RUNNING TIME: 163 minutes

RATING: ****

WITH BOYHOOD, director Richard Linklater deftly merges an epic on a technical scale with the most intimate of storylines to create a warmly affecting tale.

Allowing his actors to age in real time, he creates an assured coming-of-age story which shows us in minute detail the relationship between Mason Evans (Coltrane) and his divorced parents. The truly amazing feat is how he manages to never overplay his intimate access, always showing, never telling.

The film starts as six-year-old Mason is about to start grade 1 and we dip into his life every few years as he grows up, getting to know his family and the boy over 12 years.

Mason is curious about the world around him yet introspective about his feelings and just a normal little kid. He asks his dad about anything from video games to how to talk to girls.

While we get to see his mother Olivia’s (Arquette) poor relationship choices, she makes up for this by actually being a very loving and caring parent to Mason and his brat of a sister, Samantha (played by Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei).

Dad Mason senior (Hawke), makes an effort to spend time with his children as the mom moves them around Texas while she studies further, eventually gets a teaching job and remarries a couple of times.

Though there are some harsh moments dealing with alcoholism, the parents come across as having their children’s best interest at heart. Mason senior’s engagement with the kids is where some of Linklater’s love of exploring of philosophical ideas in his works comes through.

Right at the end of the film, Mason comments to a new friend about how he thinks people live in the moment rather than that moments seize people and this, if anything, is the crux of the film. It shows us how little moments aggregate to create complexity once you look backwards, but when you are in that moment it is the simplest thing to just get to the next moment.

While the story flows, never stuttering, it is a slice of life built up over almost three hours of life happening. It is not a puzzle to be unravelled, but rather a complex picture that is built up to become greater than the sum of its scenes.

It is not about a clever plot – it absolutely doesn’t follow any prescribed strategy other than scripted dialogue to get from one scene to the next. The funny moments flow naturally and the acting, too, is very realistic.

So, by the end of the film it feels like you know these people and you watched this boy grow up.

At first it seems like the story is moving too slowly, but as you settle into the rhythm of the film you start realising how you have become used to cued explosions and narrative plot dumps thanks to the machine that is Hollywood.

This is very clever, subtle film-making which uses all the techniques in the textbook, but in the background, so all you engage with is this child who is a completely constructed screen character, but feels like he is a friend and simply part of your life.

If you liked Tree of Life you will like this.