12 years, 4 main actors, and 39 days of total shooting. Sounds like the ingredients for a reality show, right? Think again. This latest formula is the pieces behind the Oscar buzzing film, Boyhood.
Richard Linklater is the genius behind this one of a kind film. Linklater, the brains behind films such as Dazed and Confused and The Before Trilogy, had the brilliant idea to portray the same actors over a 12 year span. The movie follows the daily lives of divorced parents, Mason Sr. and Olivia (played by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) and their children Mason Jr. and Samantha (played by Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater, the directors daughter.) Together they document the trials and tribulations of living with parents of divorce, second and third marriages, moving to new schools, and the acts that everyday life throws at them.
One of the best parts about the movie is the un-engaging plot. Now normally I would call that a sign that a movie is a flop, but with this film is totally works. The film goes through the motions of everyday life, which is enough of a plot here. Mason battles through new schools, bad haircuts, and new relationships. What makes the semi-plot-less film enjoyable is watching the seamless connection of growing up.
Another great element in this film is the reference of pop culture. We are able to gage the setting and year based on what is going on around the characters. In one scene, Mason is waiting at the midnight release for the newest Harry Potter book. In the next, the kids are watching Roger Clemens pitch for one of his final games. We watch the evolution of cell phones and social media come to life as well.
Linklater makes the connections between the years very effortlessly. The film may be daunting in length to some, (trust me, I was hesitant how this story could play out in almost three hours!) but the story quickly unravels to keep the attention of the audience. You watch the film through Mason’s eyes. Seeing the smallest details come to life. Is Mason’s dad sleeping with the waitress he is flirting with, or is his mom’s new marriage really the best thing for his family? The film flows without a missing a beat and the transition from year to year is effortless and demonstrated with a slight hair cut or a simple growth spurt.
Linklater took a huge risk with this project. It is a big commitment to ask for the four main actors to stay on board for twelve straight years. Luckily, they were all on the same page, keeping their physical appearances pretty similar and emotional integrity in check. In an interview with Jimmy Fallon, Coltrane even said he called Linklater when
getting his ear pierced. He just wanted to make sure it was something that was fit for the movie. When Linklater received the phone call, he said sure, we’ll find some way to incorporate it! That is part of the beauty that makes this film work, the actors and directors were on the same page for twelve long years.
Along with the risk of keeping the same actors for that long of a time period, Linklater did not have much a script written. According to Arquette and Hawke, they would show up for a few days each year and just talk about what was going on with the story line. From there they would come up with some dialogue and shoot the scene the next day. Only Linklater had a final idea of where the family would end up. Overall it was risk that was worth taking.
Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are not ones to forget about in this film. Although the film is carried by the wonderful Ellar Coltrance, the parents are the one that I would not forget about come award season. I would keep an eye out for an Oscar nomination for both Arquette and Hawke in the supporting actor category. The leading actor category is another story. This year the field has several top contenders. Ellar stands a chance of being a reasonable threat, but I would venture to guess that he has more of a chance supporting the film as a whole. Boyhood is currently nominated for Best Picture at the Gotham Awards and is leading the field with four other nominations.