Boyhood, (dir Richard Linklater, 2014) is a truly unique and wonderful film which, as many have already said, redefines the coming of age movie genre.
Nothing much happens by Hollywood standards but we go on an emotional rollercoaster with Mason and his family as if this were a documentary. If it hadn't been for the casting of already famous Hawke and Arquette, it would have been hard to convince me that these were not real people. The Truman Show without the deception. And with obvious parallels with Michael Apted's "Up" series.
With the many universal truths throughout there is something for everyone to identify with - the "you are not my dad" moment, Mom saying "I thought there would be more", the spats between the siblings, all the pep-talks Mason is giving along the way, just the general awkwardness of families.
All the performances are subtle and perfectly in keeping with the low-key documentary feel. Ellar Coltrane particularly. 'Dad' is complex too - seemingly a bit of a loser at the beginning, he turns into an inspiring, supportive and fun father. How did the adults manage to stay in character for 12 years?
Once you relax into the slow pace and enjoy all the ordinary moments portrayed, this is a joy to watch. The audience feels privileged to have access to this world and to get these intimates glimpses of life.
The genius for me - as someone who is trying to learn how to make films, albeit tiny ones - is how restrained Linklater would have had to have been. I can imagine it would have been so tempting to put in some deaths and high drama or to have tried to include more cultural references to place the segments in time. The subtleties of the edit are truly remarkable too. One very poignant scene is when Mason is upset with his Dad because he has sold his car, rather than giving it to his son - as promised, allegedly. A conversation is referenced which we never saw or heard which reminds the audience what a vast number of memories and moments we collect over even a very short time on this planet.
There are some savage critics. Here is an excerpt from a review on IMDB:
The film which is much too long follows an unstable family and focuses on the life of Mason, a character that has absolutely no interesting characteristics whatsoever. The intelligent viewer will be unable to connect with such a person. Mason walks through this film as if he was in a coma or half asleep; he has no ambitions. At some point he gets his first kiss, gets interested in photography (the ultimate art form for unimaginative lazy people) during high school (haven't we seen that already too many times?), goes to college at which point the film ends. I kid you not, this is the whole movie. The mother becomes a teacher at a local college and always seems to attract the wrong guys. The father is an unemployed loser who only talks about pop music and ends up being a square. Mason's sister (the director's daughter) grows up too and that's pretty much all you can say about her.
It is actually impossible to spoil this film because nothing happens (unless you consider the fact that Mason finishes high school a spoiler). Linklater completely fails to dramatize his ideas. As a result, following this movie feels like watching family home videos of a family you do not care about - just with better picture quality.
"photography (the ultimate art form for unimaginative lazy people)"??
I must confess I did feel it was a very long film and there were times that I was not as fully engaged as I would have liked. Partly I feel this is because we are so conditioned by the Hollywood machine to expect action or tragedy. I feared throughout the film that something devastating was going to happen - every time someone said 'take care' or 'driver carefully'. Not sure if this was deliberate or not or if I would have enjoyed the movie more or less if I had known the story.
A couple of bits of quite interesting trivia....
Richard Linklater cast his daughter Lorelei Linklater as Samantha because she was always singing and dancing around the house and wanted to be in his movies. At about the third or fourth year of filming, she lost interest and asked for her character to be killed off. Linklater refused, saying it was too violent for what he was planning (Lorelei eventually regained her enthusiasm and continued with the project).
The film began production as The Untitled 12 Year Project and then became titled 12 Years. When the film was finished, Richard Linklater changed the title to Boyhood, to avoid confusion with the similarly-titled, Academy Award-winning 12 Years a Slave (2013).