Fans of Richard Linklater’s cult hits Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, are used to the writer/director’s incredibly honest approach to real life relationships. They’re also used to the action containing itself to a 24-hour period.
Not so with his latest movie, Boyhood, which tracks the life of a young boy from primary school to college, taking in all the ordinary wonder that growing up entails. What makes this project so unique is that rather than hire a succession of older actors to play the central character Mason, Linklater instead cast one boy, Ellar Coltrane, and shot the movie for one week annually over the course of 12 years. It’s a career best.
Hawke plays Mason’s father, with Linklater’s own daughter Lorelei as his sister Samantha and Patricia Arquette as his mum, doing it tough, bringing the kids up single-handedly while holding down school and then a career.
We know all of these people … That’s the real human part of this story, they are all people we can identify with in some way – Arquette
Arquette says that despite the almost 14 years’ work since first agreeing to the project, she’ll be sad to say goodbye to her fictional family. “I became really close to Ellar and Lorelei,” she says. “They’re incredible kids. I love everybody that worked on this movie.”
During the course of promoting the film, Ellar and Lorelei visited LA. They were both pretty tired, so Arquette gave them the option of her showing them round town or heading back to her place to chill out. “I asked if they wanted to lay down and put on a movie while I cook something for them and they were both like, ‘yay, yay.’” Arquette says. “I experienced all these little moments of mothering. I’ve done Ellar’s laundry in real life.”
That loving, familial bond comes across strongly in this richly nuanced film, full of recognisable characters, faults and all. “We know all of these people,” Arquette agrees. “That’s the real human part of this story, they are all people we can identify with in some way.”
It was just a beautiful, organic process, bringing a lot of real life experiences from ourselves and people we knew.
Despite Arquette’s character being a savvy career woman who holds the family together, she has a procession of dead-end relationships. “Ethan pointed out that we all know this woman, whether it’s our sister, cousin, friend or our mother,” Arquette says. “We all have blind spots, and that’s part of what was fun to play. As you get older and you remove some of them, new ones appear and you’re not even aware they are there.”
Linklater encouraged his cast to contribute to the unfolding story. “Rick had this great balance of structure and openness, collaboration and pre-decided architecture,” Arquette says. “He would write something, and we would talk it over, all of us. It was just a beautiful, organic process, bringing a lot of real life experiences from ourselves and people we knew.”
Some lines got lifted wholesale from real life. One of the film’s producers said that her daughter going to college was ‘the worst day of her life,’ a line mimicked by Arquette when Mason heads off to Austin, Texas.
Arquette is incredibly proud of their communal achievement, not least because of the unlikely challenge of securing funding for a film that won’t surface for 13 years. “Besides that, to have your main lead be very much an observer is brave,” she says. “Rick chose to tell this story about a boy who’s not the funniest kid in class, or the slickest guy, or the most troubled either, or any of those kinda obvious choices. He’s really figuring out who he is and growing as he goes along.”
“It’s a rare movie, there’s no other quite like this”
Linklater would be led by Ellar’s real world experiences too. He didn’t want to introduce a girlfriend for Mason until such point as Ellar had experienced that in his own life.
“It’s a rare movie, there’s no other quite like this,” Arquette says. “All of us really wanted to do this. We couldn’t contractually be obligated to return, but we wanted to. As the kids got older, Ellar and Lorelei would contribute more about the way they saw the world or the things their friends were talking about.”
Now that it’s all coming to an end, Boyhood is going to leave an extra family-shaped hole in her life. “Everything about it was incredibly beautiful. It was the best artistic gift. The only hard thing about this movie was finishing it and knowing that I wasn’t going to be coming back. I’m giving away this film that I loved so much to the world and not knowing if the world will understand its subtle beauty.”
Praise for Boyhood
The New York Times’ Manhola Dargis says: “In Boyhood, Mr. Linklater’s masterpiece, he both captures moments in time and relinquishes them as he moves from year to year. He isn’t fighting time but embracing it in all its glorious and agonizingly fleeting beauty.”
Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Nashawaty says: “Like Michael Apted in his “Seven Up!” documentary series, Linklater makes you feel as if you’re watching a photograph as it develops in the darkroom.”
The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern says: “On rare occasions a movie seems to channel the flow of real life. Boyhood is one of those occasions. In its ambition, which is matched by its execution, Richard Linklater’s endearing epic is not only rare but unique.”
The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday says: “As a film that dares to honor small moments and the life they add up to, Boyhood isn’t just a masterpiece. It’s a miracle.”
Stephen A. Russell for thelowdownunder says: “It’s almost impossible to convey in words just how perfect a piece of cinema Richard Linklater’s Boyhood truly is, largely because it feels so much more true to life than the medium allows.”