How often do we get to see a movie that is utterly unlike anything we have ever seen before? It is rare. For his entire career, from the start with his Sundance breakout "Slackers" in 1991, Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater has worked outside the box. He tracked the couple Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) across 18 years and three "Before" films (1995-2013), opening up the writing collaboration to his two lead actors. Linklater is a generous soul. He doesn't try to control as much as to steer his outcomes, with a great deal of confidence, something he needed with the philosophical rotoscoping animation experiments "Waking Life" and the Philip K. Dick adaptation "A Scanner Darkly."
The secret of Linklater's success is his willingness to fail. He left some audiences behind with his earnest attempt to fictionalize Eric Schlosser's nonfiction food expose "Fast Food Nation," which played Cannes. But Linklater hit "Boyhood," his experiment with cinematic time, out of the park. IFC chief Jonathan Sehring deserves credit for backing this innovative venture with an uncertain outcome: he put $200,000 a year into a week of filming for twelve years. That's far more than IFC usually plunks down on its various festival pickups. IFC opted to release the film itself, although Sony Pictures Classics, which handled the most recent "Before" film, chased it at Sundance.
This unique film continues to draw curious moviegoers from all over the world to check out this universal story of an ordinary family coping with the vicissitudes of life and the pursuit of happiness. The film keeps winning audience awards at festivals and is now an Oscar frontrunner and multiple Indie Spirit nominee. Academy members are sure to embrace this film, which boasts a scale and scope never seen before in cinema.
When I saw the film at its world premiere at Sundance I was stunned by its emotional impact. While documentarian Michael Apted tracked a group of friends from "Seven" through seven films to "Fifty-six," each film caught up with where they were. In this case Linklater cast a six-year-old boy and had to convinced his parents to let him shoot him every summer for 12 years until he went to college. He picked Ellar Coltrane, the son of artists. Each section is pretty short, and we are moving swiftly through this young man's life as he grows and adapts and changes. There's no predictable trajectory. At the start, Mason (Coltrane) and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) are dealing with their struggling single mom (Patricia Arquette), who decides to move home to her mother's so that she can go back to school. Mason's footloose father (Hawke) moves in and out of his life in his sporty vintage GTO convertible (which still sits in Linklater's garage). The film draws us into caring deeply for Mason and his evolving, expanding and contracting family.
On second viewing, I was impressed with how fluidly, efficiently and organically Linklater moved through two hours. His actors take on these characters like breathing. The ending of the film carries a huge punch because we don't want to leave this lovely boy, about to embark on becoming a man.
When I went to interview Linklater, Coltrane, Arquette and Hawke (video below) I was struck by how much making the film meant to them. For 12 years they were able to keep these summer sojourns to themselves. Finally when they shot that last day, everyone had to say good-bye and admit that it was finally coming to an end. Even the professional actors had never been through something like this before. Coltrane, especially, was unprepared for the process of sharing the movie with the world at Sundance and other festivals, of having audiences watch it--and him. When I this handsome young man I felt like I knew him. How strange that must be for him, dealing with the press. "Boyhood" is a true hybrid, neither documentary or entirely fiction.
I talked to Linklater on the phone, below.