Can you imagine being followed by a camera for more than a decade? Visionary director Richard Linklater did just that, combining documentary and classic film styles for his groundbreaking film Boyhood from IFC Films. The journey captures a young boy’s transition into adulthood as he learns about life, love, and becoming a man in his own right. Filmed over the course of twelve years, the ambitious drama graces us with lifelike pacing and sets new precedents for cinematography and sound editing.
Boyhood weaves its way through elementary school friendships, deadbeat stepdads, family road trips, graduations, and first loves to show us how life is truly about the little things. We commend Linklater for assembling a cast that flowed together so seamlessly that it sometimes felt as if we were watching genuine home video footage. We see life unfolding through the eyes of Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane). Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are Mason’s divorced parents, each shaping his perspective in different but equally important ways. The director also took a chance by enlisting his own daughter (Lorelei Linklater) to play Mason’s sister. The pair gives an honest portrayal of a brother-sister relationship.
Cinematographers Lee Daniel and Shane F. Kelly created a visual landscape that flows like memories of life. Shot on 35mm negative during the entire twelve year process, they strive to maintain a sense of continuity with a solid look and feel. Our only indication of time is the evolution of the characters themselves as they age before our eyes. Before we know it, life has happened, and we’re sure that’s exactly what Linklater intended.
Editor Sandra Adair is no stranger to Linklater films, as she has edited all of his features dating back to Dazed and Confused. Her realistic pacing brings this visual time capsule to life. Long shots of dialogue are sprinkled throughout, such as when a young Mason talks to a friend from school as she rides her bike or when he has philosophical discussions about life on a road trip with his first love, Sheena (Zoe Graham). This is typical Linklater style, as you might’ve seen in his fourteen minute long shot in Before Midnight. Not only are these unconventionally long scenes often the most memorable, but they transform the seemingly unimportant conversations we all have in life into moments to cherish. The director and editor added their collaborative flair by not shifting to different perspectives in these long takes. This keeps viewers connected to the entire scene, and it feels like we are truly right there with them. While those decisions certainly slowed down the picture’s pace, you leave the theater appreciating it, just as you look back and appreciate your own childhood.
On the sound side, a slew of audio savants delivered an awesome soundtrack with crisp, clear dialogue. Benjamin Lowry (Sin City) and Mack Melson (The Guardian) were tapped as sound mixers with Tom Hammond (Before Midnight) on board as supervising sound editor. Chris Erlon (Harvester) and Jay Fisher (Noah) handled the ADR.
As the film and characters evolved, so did the technology with which it was captured. Sound went from being recorded on 2-track DATs, ADAT (a multitrack format that could simultaneously capture eight audio tracks onto a Super VHS videocassette, now obsolete), and even a 6-track portable location recorder, the Fostex PD-6, which used double-sided 8-centimeter DVD-RAM disks.
There was no score for the film, so audience members can truly focus on the sounds that would come from everyday life. In one notable scene, a younger Mason Jr. sits at the dinner table with his family. His stepdad’s alcoholic rage makes for yet another awkward dinner, and the tension builds with every moment of silence or clank of dinnerware. This really puts the spotlight on the subtle sound work, again illuminating the common thread throughout the movie: it’s all about the little things.
Something that caught the public’s ear, back when Boyhood screened at Sundance, was the unofficial soundtrack. Although Linklater hadn’t yet secured the song rights, people were bobbing their heads to the film’s cool tunes. The final edit includes names like Arcade Fire, Coldplay, Cobra Starship, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney & Wings, The Black Keys, and more. The songs guide us through transition sequences revving us for Mason’s next chapter.
Boyhood is a heartwarming, startlingly truthful glimpse at life through the eyes of a young boy coming of age in the ‘90s. It reminds the young not to blink and dares the old to look back. See this unforgettable journey on the big screen before it’s too late.
Bold and exceptionally well told, it's worth the ticket price.