Imagine 12 years of your life, from childhood to matriculation, caught on film every summer. Actor Ellar Coltrane grew before our eyes as Mason in this summer’s hot indie flick, Boyhood. With only vague plot points and the 12-year timeline, director Richard Linklater’s new film creates a sense of improvisation and realism.
This unique project began in 2002 when Coltrane was seven and only ended in 2013, when he was 18. Every summer, the main cast and crew would get together for a few weeks to shoot 10 to 15 minute short films from each year of Mason’s life, resulting in a two and a half hour film about one family’s journey through life. I expected a lighthearted coming-of-age story but found heavy topics like divorce, stepfamilies, abusive relationships, and responsibility along the way.
So much of this film brought me back to my own experiences growing up in the 2000s, albeit a few years before these kids. Being able to reminisce about popular music and movies from the decade and see it smoothly fit into this movie was really enjoyable. However, there was a lot for all generations. Everyone gets the sex talk from their parents, goes through puberty, and has their first crush, but Boyhood was able to present it in a very realistic way that never seemed corny or over the top.
Coltrane is incredibly honest in his portrayal of Mason, and there’s an incredible payoff as we watch him grow up and change into a moody teenager and then a responsible young adult. Despite always being a bit subdued, he seems to find himself throughout the years, making friends and getting comfortable in his skin. His haircut frequently changes, the most obvious way to differentiate between the years, but it becomes less of something to hide behind and more to show his growing confidence. Through the later years Coltrane developed acne that was never hidden in the filming but instead used to show a realistic teenage experience.
Richard Linklater’s daughter Lorelei plays Mason’s sister and reminds me what it was like to be a teenage girl in high school. Although not the star of the film, she brings a laugh and some brightness to the early years when she loudly sings Britney Spears and refuses to change cities by yelling “No!” constantly. Though always relaxed, she frequently changed her hair in pursuit of her personal identity. In the end it comes full circle, she’s returned to her natural hair colour and she’s found her place at university.
Ethan Hawke fulfills the role of Mason’s dad. Throughout the 12 years he matures from an absentee father that only shows up to give the kids gifts into a capable father, supporting and guiding his children to hopefully make the right decisions. His own personal life shows his growing maturity as we initially see him sharing an apartment with a singer without any stable job, until in the later years he has a wife, a child, and a new family all his own. His presence frequently allowed for a removal from the serious events of homelife, through camping trips and bowling weekends, while still teaching his children lessons.
Mason’s mother, played by Patricia Arquette, proves this isn’t just a coming of age tale. The first half of the movie is strongly guided by her life choices before Mason gets older and starts making his own decisions. She’s just as interesting a character as Mason, and provides an emotionally powerful, multidimensional character that I latched onto immediately. If you’re feeling nostalgic about the 2000s or are looking for a great family relationship movie, Boyhood is a must watch.