08 August 2014

"What's the Point of This? Of Everything?"

There is something wonderful about Richard Linklater's movies that makes them beautiful, compelling and, well, real even though not a lot really happens in them. Normally, this is a problem for me — I like plot — but somehow, Linklater just crafts these rich, bittersweet human stories that leave me craving more. The Before... trilogy ranks among my all-time favourite films. Linklater's newest movie, Boyhood, has a similar structure — checking back in on a few characters at sporadic intervals — but represents an even greater technical achievement because it was filmed once a year over a period of 12 years.

As the film opens, it is the early 2000s and Coldplay's Yellow is on the soundtrack. Seven-year-old Mason (Ellar Coltrane) plays with his friend and engages in some early-years equivalent of graffiti ("urban art"). He and his older sister Samantha (played by Linklater's daughter Lorelai) live with their mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) in small-town Texas. Olivia had her children too young and has separated from her husband Mason Senior (Ethan Hawke). Wanting a better life for her children, she decides to move the family to Houston so that she can go back to school and eventually get a better job so she can provide more effectively for her family.

As the noughties roll by, Mason and Sam grow older, and their parents meet new love interests, some with more successful outcomes than others. "I really enjoy making poor life decisions," Olivia admits at one point. Mason's creative talents intensify and we see him go on to become a talented photographer. We also see him grow into a man — the film ends when he arrives at college as an eighteen-year-old freshman, having lived through a boyhood that has its share of both happy and sad times.

The film also traces 12 years of culture and politics. Sam lip syncs and dances precociously to Britney's Baby One More Time towards the beginning of the film, whereas nearer the end, she and her brother chill out and play pool while Gotye sings about somebody he used to know. Coloured iMac G3s are replaced by iPhones, and there are Harry Potter book-release parties and references to to the Iraq War and then the Obama campaign and the NSA.

But it's the relationships between Mason, his parents and his sister that are at the heart of the film. Coltrane grows from cute kid to grumpy, mumbling teenager, but watching how his interactions with Hawke and Arquette develop over time is fascinating. "Dad, there's no real magic in the world, right?" he asks Mason Senior, while on a boys' camping trip. There might not be, but Linklater's film does have a magic to it that easily justifies its 2h45 length. It's a masterpiece and I highly recommend it.

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