Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Grow up

The 'coming of age' genre comes in many ways, shapes, and forms. Think The Breakfast Club or Ferris Bueller's Day Off. But today's film offers something revolutionary to the genre, and to the world of film as a whole. Shot over twelve years, this is Boyhood.

Our titular boy, Mason, lies looking up at the sky. He is six years old. The film shows us his progress through childhood and onto his college years. We see his sister Sam grow up with him but this film is ultimately about family. The two children come from a broken family, supported by their struggling mother and swept away occasionally by their young, care-free, musician father for the weekend. As the film goes on, we see these relationships develop, adapt, or crack.

Three little kiddie-winks

Of course, where this story differs from other family dramas and coming of age stories is that Boyhood is shot over twelve years meaning the same boy grows into a young adult before our eyes in just under three hours. Not only is this a cinematic achievement of epic proportions, it also gives the film something a uniquely special, almost documentary, feel. This film, had it have been shot over a few months with well cast look-a-likes of different ages, would have tipped towards mediocrity. It instead a strives towards excellence. A study of the human life, old and young, with the visible reality of ageing, weight loss or gain, and other aspects of human change really makes the story come to life like no other could.

Today we learn Ethan Hawke aged the most in 12 years 

Linklater has achieved in more than just film making with Boyhood. His understanding of the popular and tapping into the zeitgeist of the years he filmed help them remain relevant, so long after it was shot. We see the importance of the first iPod, the Gameboy, the Xbox, the Wii in the kids lives, and other points we listen to conversations about the possibilities of another Star Wars (four years before the announcement of Episode VII). The audience's conceptual knowledge of all of these things only adds to the enjoyment of the film. Not to mention the wonderful performances by the whole ensemble. No doubt that focus is (and should be) on the child actors who grow up within the film, but not for a single moment can we turn away from the stellar performances of Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette. Like the the younger performers, they too had to commit to a twelve year project and remember, develop, and become their characters time and time again without a single fault. Not to take anything away from Coltrane and Linklater, of course, but whilst the film is about them, it is given heart by the parents. They portray experiences of alcoholism, abuse, divorce, heartbreak, abandonment, unemployment, and unconditional love for the children and they do it incredibly.

Is Boyhood the best film of the year? No. But it is perhaps the most ambitious, most exciting, and most triumphant cinematic achievements of all time.

Best bit? The best bits of Boyhood are not heart warmers, they are heart breakers. A step father who falls victim to alcohol, a mother realising how short life really is as her children grow up and begin to fly the coop. Tear jerking, but powerful.

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