NZIFF Review - Boyhood
Time is an illusion in Richard Linklater's masterpiece coming of age film.
Set over 12 years of the life of Mason Jr (Ellar Coltrane in a stellar turn - how did Linklater know he would turn out exactly as needed?), Boyhood charts the boy's growth and ends with graduation from high school.
But the passing of time is not signposted, nor remarked on as lives change, circumstances become more and less complicated and life, basically, happens.
Eschewing conventional narrative tropes that usually blight these kinds of movies (parents separate, parents reconnect, everyone lives happily ever after), Linklater remains true to the often messy and unpredictable ways of life. Mason's parents, Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and Mason Sr (Ethan Hawke) start the movie separated, with his dad zooming into town here and there and parenting where and when he's allowed; meanwhile his mother goes through a series of relationships that splinter under time (and dissolve off-screen) having had the seeds of discomfort sown early on.
With life evolving and dissolving, Linklater never loses his focus and eye for detail and moments as seamless time shifts take place throughout; be it the Harry Potter mania that grips both Mason and his sister Sam or discussion of the Twilight novels, the zeitgeist is certainly present throughout the 165 minutes run time, making this piece feel both timeless and yet also of the era as well. Problems are universal - girls, school choices, alcoholism - they're all there for the rich dramatic pickings
But in among the humour, there's poignancy as well; a final speech from Olivia as Mason Jr prepares to move out works on two levels; there are laughs within it but at the same time a bittersweet recognition that in amongst the various haircut changes and fashion sensibilities, life has marched on and the inevitable lies ahead; a sad admission that life, in all its forms, is to be treasured and embraced. (Even if most of the audience laughed at this, it's an indication of how wide ranging the film is and how differently it can be interpreted)
And its main protagonists fare exceptionally well too; Coltrane inhabits the role with ease from the naivete of youth to the highs and lows of life's disappointments and makes an eminently watchable lead no matter the age; Hawke is an affable easy presence and (along with Arquette) is spared the indignity of watching the relationship fall apart - and Arquette, the mother is an achingly real centre of Mason's world, as she tries to find her own identity and negotiate life.
The main thing about Boyhood though is how incredibly easy Linklater's made this all look - committing to a film for 12 years certainly is one hell of a decision (and reeks of the 7 Up series of docos) but proves to be a masterstroke in the coming of age genre.
Quite simply, thanks to Boyhood, that genre has been forever changed and its limitations blown out of the water.
Do what you can to see Boyhood, it's one of the most rewarding films of the festival and is as life-affirming as it is life-changing.