★★★★★ | Boyhood

This engrossing story of Mason Jnr. growing up from a kid to a young man starts when he is just 6 years old.

He lives with his older sister Samantha and their mother Olivia in an ordinary suburban home that they simply cannot afford. His rather immature father Mason Snr. who acts like a big kid himself at times, roars into his life occasionally and apart from trying to play the role of Dad for a whole 12 hours at a time, contributes little else to help the family survive. So Olivia decides it’s time to make what will turn out to be the first of many moves as she continually struggles with both paying bills and leaving the drunks that she, unfortunately, marries along the way.

This initial move is to Houston to be near the children’s Grandmother and to enable Olivia to study for the first of the degrees she will earn, and also juggle holding down a full-time job. Along the way, she marries her professor who has a son Mason’s age and a daughter too, and for a few years, they all get to play happy families. When the Professor’s alcoholism manifests into bullying Mason and the other children and physically abusing Olivia, she walks out of the house taking Mason and Samantha with literally only the clothes on their backs.

For shy and somewhat introverted Mason this needs to start all over again in a strange school without any friends is tough. Samantha is more outspoken and angry with her mother about it, but she at least has the outgoing personality to adapt more easily to their new environment.

Complete with her Degree and now studying for her Masters, Olivia has moved the family again so that she can start teaching in a small town outside of Austin. One of her mature students becomes both her next husband and the next alcoholic who tries to manipulate her and the children. Mason by now is a troubled teenager struggling with his adolescence and about to graduate high school. His father has remarried and with a new baby in tow and has become the respectable adult that Olivia had wanted him to be 16 years ago, so he can at least help his confused son move forward to deal with whatever new challenges college life will have in store for him.

This remarkable film made over 12 consecutive years sees this tender and profound story unfold in real time as we witness this cast of actors playing the family grow up and grow old in front of our very eyes.

There is such a fluidity to the whole piece that it’s hard to even consider the notion that when the Richard Linklater the director/writer started this project in the summer of 2002 that he knew exactly how this extraordinary movie of his would pan out. To see a family mature together and somehow pull through a whole series of near-catastrophic scenarios like this and come out stronger and intact at the end is nothing less than astonishing. At the end when Olivia is single again and just about to watch Mason finally leave her to go to college she has a small meltdown as she looks back at the past 18 years and cries out ‘I just wish it could have been better.’ But even she could not deny that what she had enabled them all to achieve was incredible.

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In this epic masterpiece of a flawless movie, Linklater’s attention to every single detail paid off so handsomely. Starting with the cast of Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as Olivia and Mason Snr but more especially the unknown young Ellar Coltrane with a superb breakthrough performance as Mason Jnr that was totally pitch perfect and wonderfully fresh as too was Linklater’s own daughter Lorelei who played Samantha. He needed actors of this calibre for as the years rolled on, each of the characters developed in a much deeper and profound way than one would have initially have imagined, especially Mason Snr. who we were ready to write off as lightweight in the beginning.

Linklater’s attention to every aspect got personal too as he owns the GTO that Mason Snr. drove as his pride and joy as it somehow made him feel like the rock star he never was.

This audacious experiment that has resulted with such a brilliant and compelling cinematic treat will undoubtedly end up on many ‘best movie lists of 2014’, including mine.

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P.S. This concept of making a movie in real time seems so brilliant now that it’s a surprise that more filmmakers haven’t tried it before. Acclaimed Brit. director Michael Winterbottom’s ‘Everyday’ released in 2012 was filmed over 5 years but with a very little plot this very tedious drama turned out to be his worst movie to date. The nearest equivalent is Micheal Apted’s award-winning documentary TV series ‘7 Up’ that has revisited a group of ‘children’ every 7 years for 5 decades now.

Is in cinemas Nationwide

About the author: Roger Walker-Dack
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