Richard Linklater filmed Boyhood for 12 years. 12 years. That’s an insane amount of dedication, and a risky proposition. I’ve gotten tired of projects in 12 hours, let alone 12 years. There’s an endless list of things that could go wrong. The kid could turn out to be a psycho. He could have acne flare up like the pimply-faced teenager on The Simpsons. He could grow up to be a major douche. Thankfully, everything worked out, and the final product is a great film that captures the feeling of growing up.
Boyhood’s greatest asset is that it isn’t showy. Linklater gives us snippets of everyday life for Mason Jr. and his family as it shows his life from the simple age of six to the ever-angsty year of eighteen. Its focus isn’t on the moments. I found myself filled with dread at certain times, because I’ve been trained by everything I watch to feel that way. I’d think to myself, “Okay, this is where something tragic happens that changes Mason forever.” This isn’t that kind of movie. Boyhood just wants to live a normal life. The shifts between years are subtle, the audience often figuring out how old Mason is by the length of his hair.
Ellar Coltrane does a great job as the subject of this film. It’s got to be an odd experience having your entire growing process documented like this. Richard Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei, perfectly portrays Mason’s older sister. However, the heavy lifting for the film went to Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, who play Mason’s divorced parents, Olivia and Mason Sr.
As a child of divorced parents, I know how it feels to see your dad every other weekend. To have your mom cry in frustration over how hard it is to raise children on your own. Boyhood got these notes just right. Arquette captures the strength and sorrow of a single mother. Hawke gets the easy going nature of a single dad who is learning how to grow up himself.
Ethan Hawke described the process as making a “short film every year for the last 11 years,” in a Reddit AMA done shortly before filming the final section of Boyhood. It’s a unique process, and the result is a unique film.