Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is a young boy who lives in Texas with his divorced mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and his older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), and while they manage to get on one another's nerves fairly regularly, they do stick together as Olivia tries to keep her children in line, particularly concerned about Mason who may be bright, but is not applying himself in school as much as she would hope. Perhaps it is down to his lack of a steady father figure, as his mother's boyfriend (Stephen Chester Prince) tends to give the kids short shrift and it's not the first time the boy has eavesdropped on the pair of them having a heated argument. So what happened to his dad Mason Sr (Ethan Hawke)? Olivia divorced him a while ago...
Boyhood received the most attention writer and director Richard Linklater had enjoyed since his hit comedy School of Rock, even more than the similarly-made Before trilogy, the third instalment of which, Before Midnight, had been widely acclaimed itself. If that trio which had picked up a loyal cult following was proof he was in this career for the long haul then this effort only underlined it, a film shot over the course of twelve years following the growth of a young boy into adulthood. A lot can happen in that time, and it could have been Linklater was overly optimistic in setting out as he did - what if Coltrane decided he had lost interest in this acting lark, for example? Or the unthinkable happened, and one of the major players died? Apparently Ethan Hawke was all ready to step in should anything happen to Linklater.
As it turned out, it all went blessedly smoothly considering, since essentially what was happening over that period was a short film made every year, then edited together come the end of the story in 2013; it sounds like it should be a distracting novelty with the characters lurching forward in age every fifteen minutes, yet as it unfolded organically you would notice the passing of the years, it came across perfectly naturally, which was as you really should have expected. But for all the selling points of the length of the shoot, it would be nothing much to write home about if it had been the equivalent of some kid's home movies on an indie flick budget, there had to be some substance to it: David Carradine had filmed an obscure movie in the same fashion some time before, and that was unfinished at the time of his death, so what made this stand out?
It could be a lot to do with the way it illustrated how much we are part of a culture as much as we are a product of those closest to us. Various touchstones are introduced casually as part of the background or a minor point in the scenes, whether that be Mason and Samantha enjoying Harry Potter novels or the political climate changing from Republican to Democrat, along with more stable aspects such as religion or guns, things breeding equal amounts of mixed feelings. As we watch Mason develop in this environment, however, we do tend to see what good his upbringing has done for him, and if he has been more influenced by his harrassed mother, strict, yearning for stability but a victim of poor choices, or his deadbeat father, taking far too long to get his act together in life but actually a sweet, supportive guy who we suspect Olivia should have given another chance to.
Olivia could be a key to this in that she manages to pick the wrong guy every time. We don't see what issues she had with Mason Sr, though we can guess, but the partners she chooses after continually prove to be her undoing, giving rise to conflict between both her and her children, at times in a seriously abusive manner. The questions remain: have these men revealed themselves as deeply flawed and that's all Olivia has to choose from, or was there someone out there who she would have been a perfect match for? Judging by introspective Mason's fumbling towards a mature relationship, there may be no satisfying answer, with the certainties in life reduced - or lifted - to the landscape or pop culture and art. The folks who inhabit them are a lot less reliable, and Olivia's last line (Arquette and Hawke carried the acting burden with great skill) is not something you would ever want to hear your mother say, never mind yourself. It was this winding ambivalence that offered Boyhood quiet power, that acknowledgement you could go through life and never really know what on Earth you were supposed to be doing.
Skilled indie director, specialising in dialogue-driven comedy-drama. Linklater's 1989 debut Slacker was an unusual but well-realised portrait of disaffected 20-something life in his home town of Austin, Texas, while many consider Dazed and Confused, his warm but unsentimental snapshot of mid-70s youth culture, to be one of the best teen movies ever made. Linklater's first stab at the mainstream - comedy western The Newton Boys - was a disappointment, but Before Sunrise, SubUrbia, Tape and the animated Waking Life are all intelligent, intriguing pictures.