Dir. Richard Linklater. U.S. 2014.

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If you come to this 2014 release knowing nothing about it, you will be confronted with a surprisingly youthful-looking Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette in the throws of breaking up their marriage, and you will wonder at either the terrific make-up job to make them look about 12 years younger than they are, or the reason why the film was held back for 12 years.  In truth, as anyone who goes to see this 165-minute film surely knows, it was shot over 12 years and portrays the growing-up of a typical American boy from age 6 to 18, with the same young actor, Ellar Coltrane, throughout.  His older sister, played by the director's daughter Lorelei Linklater, ages similarly.

Boyhood is the second outstanding film in 3 years about a boy growing up in Texas, following Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life.  Its originality (not unique, as we have the examples of Michael Apted's "7-up" etc TV series, and Truffaut's series of films starring an ever-ageing Jean-Pierre Leaud, as well as Linklater's "Before" trilogy starring Hawke and Julie Delpy) makes it a fascinating observation of people, particularly children, growing older, as hairstyles, facial changes, the breaking of the boy's voice, manifest themselves.  There are also the technological changes, as PCs give way to laptops and then to tablets and phones, changes presumably unanticipated when filming commenced in 2002.  There are references to current events (9/11, the Iraq war, the Obama election) without prior knowledge of what followed.  There was also the risk that the two children, so affecting at the outset, would lose interest and appeal as filming proceeded through the years, but this was not to be.  Coltrane matures into an extremely likeable if somewhat shy young man, while Linklater, obviously with a very close bond with her director father, is a delightfully engaging young woman by the end.  All four main actors are superb.

As one would expect, there is no particular "plot", and the ongoing screenplay was semi-improvised to take account of the children's changing interests as they grew older; for example, Coltrane developed an interest in photography, which was incorporated into the character.  Arquette, as the mother, endures a series of unhappy relationships, including with a man who from the outset is clearly a rather nasty character.  And the film's ending, somewhat reminiscent of the ending of Eric Rohmer's The Green Ray, may leave some viewers asking "so what happened next?"

Like other near-3 hour films I have seen, this seemed much shorter than many 90-minute ones.  I think Boyhood will win not just critical acclaim, but possibly a clutch of Oscars also.  Highly recommended.

Alan Pavelin

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