Richard Linklater's Boyhood has traveled a long road since its first screening at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, followed shortly after by its premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival. Twelve years in the making, Boyhood opened in theaters last summer and has remained on the big screen ever since. And it will likely still be in theaters come Oscar Sunday.
Starring Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, and Linklater's daughter, Lorelei, Boyhood follows the lives of a family over a dozen years through the point-of-view of Mason (Coltrane) from age 5 to 18.
The film immediately gained traction during its festival run, winning the Silver Bear in Berlin, and went on to play SXSW, Seattle, and San Sebastian, among others. It has also won a bevy of prizes from critics groups both in the U.S. and abroad. It won the Gotham Awards' audience prize and three Golden Globe Awards, including Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actress for Patricia Arquette, who has virtually cleaned up in the category this Awards Season.
Film Comment first wrote about Boyhood last summer, noting that though the title spans 12 years, “it's always in the moment.”:
The title of Richard Linklater’s new film is misleading: Boyhood isn’t really about boyhood at all. True, it charts the nervous insecurities, roiling family dramas, and quotidian travails of a particular boy. And there are connections to be drawn between this film and the images of maturing young men crafted by other directors throughout the history of cinema: François Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel, for example, offers a parallel, while Gus Van Sant’s gritty young hustlers in My Own Private Idaho and Larry Clark’s wiry boy bodies in films like Kids and Bully offer counterpoints. But at its core, Linklater’s attentive portrait of a Texan boy named Mason is less about what it means to be a young male than it is an evocation of another key theme in the filmmaker’s body of work, namely time. And not just time as a philosophical concept, but our time, the present moment, and what it means to be alive now. Right now.
The film focuses on Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter), mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette), and father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) learn, grow, and fight, ignore, and taunt one another, facing life’s myriad ups and downs over the course of a dozen years. What makes Boyhood so remarkable, though, is that Linklater actually shot the film in short annual increments across 12 years, so that we witness not just the arc of a story but the actual physical and emotional transformations of the characters—and the actors—as they grow and age. Accordion-like, the film collapses those 12 years into just under three hours. The effect is stunning.
Mason/Ellar slowly transforms from a boy in first grade to a young man who, at age 18, is ready for college. His sister also grows up before our eyes, from a bratty kid bent on harassing her younger brother to a pensive young woman pondering what’s next in life. Their mother endures a series of bad partners while trying to build a career and take care of her family. And their father drifts in and out of their lives, a goofy boy in a grown man’s body who refuses to acquiesce to adulthood and its responsibilities, until he capitulates two-thirds of the way through the story, trading in his prized GTO for a minivan to appease a new wife and baby.