I'm sure some of you reading this right now may be wondering what one film has to do with the other, but there's actually quite a few similarities between the two...
They're both personal, almost plotless, coming-of-age stories about young boys growing up in Texas. Both films look at the mother characters in a more positive light, while the fathers in each story are much more flawed but mean well at the end of the day. Lastly, each filmmaker dedicated large chunks of their lives to each project.
Boyhood is more straightforward in terms of delivery, but it’s just as ambitious as The Tree Of Life (possibly more). While Malick did take many years to complete his opus (with a few starts & stops, do-overs, adjustments to technology & re-casts in between) there was still a huge gap between his initial concept (which came about in the late 70's) and the final product that we now know as The Tree Of Life. Filming didn't actually start until 2009. Terrence Malick took breaks to make stuff like The Thin Red Line (1998) & The New World (2005) before really setting his focus on Tree. Obviously Richard Linklater has been quite active with other projects since he started shooting Boyhood in 2002 (he made 8 films during the 12 year span that it took to complete Boyhood) but he never actually took a traditional break from making it. Linklater had been filming Boyhood on & off since 2002 because he wanted to shoot in sequence using the same actors (Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater & Ellar Coltrane) to show realistic aging over the years, specifically with Coltrane, who ages from 7 to 19 through the course of the story. We also see his own daughter Lorelei age from 9 to 21 (an element of the story that's been downplayed in some early reviews).
The idea of Boyhood brings to mind other films that have already taken a similar approach. Richard Linklater is responsible for the Before Series (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset & Before Midnight) which chronicles the same actors/characters for three films over the span of two decades. The Up series, an on-going documentary that’s been following the same group of people since age 7, began filming in the mid 60’s; and art house cinephiles followed the Antoine Doniel character through five movies. Even smaller works like Hal Hartley’s Henry Fool (1998) and its sequel Fay Grim (2006) showed realistic aging through the years with the "Ned" character played by Liam Aiken in both films (age 7 in Henry Fool and age 15 in Fay Grim).
To me these are more than just standard sequels because they're quite personal and they show drastic changes in not only the characters, but the actors who play them over the years (minus the obvious Up film which is an actual documentary)...
|Symon - The Up Series|
|Jean-Pierre Leaud as "Antoine Doniel" - The 400 Blows / Stolen Kisses|
|Liam Aiken as "Ned Grim" - Henry Fool / Fay Grim|
Boyhood is the first fiction film, that I know of, to span so many real years in one sitting with the same actors (I'm sure there's some obscure title out there that I don't know about). Obviously you can see a 12 year age change in the face & physique of almost any adult (which we do see with Hawke & Arquette through the course of the film), but it’s way more noticeable in a kid...
Throughout Boyhood Linklater expresses his own personal political views through his characters (which is fine with me because I guess we share the same basic beliefs). He also references his older works like Dazed & Confused (let's see if you can catch the two moments) as well as Waking Life (by the time Mason is in his late teens he sometimes talks like a character right out of a scene in Waking Life). And being the cinephile that he is, Linklater also uses movies (and music) as markers in time.
But the constant presence of Mason's older sister does provide an alternative/feminine perspective.
This is one of those recent films for me like Upstream Color, Post Tenebras Lux or Leviathan where no matter how many minor (or major) issues there may be, it’s still doing something new-ish or somewhat progressive for cinema. Yes this is a fictional story, but there’s also an accidental documentary here because we’re following the same people and watching them change over a real extended period of time (I'm aware there's plenty of fiction/documentary hybrids out there already, but not like Boyhood).
And it's not like Mason's parents are bad. In fact they're parenting style is a bit progressive & laid back to a certain degree. They both have their flaws (one has more than the other) but how many perfect parents do you know of? They actually grow/improve as parents through the course of the film.
Given Linklater’s attachment to certain actors & characters (specifically those in The Before Series), I wouldn’t be surprised if we follow Mason in to adulthood later on down the road (...Manhood?). There was an honest/organic attempt at doing something different with Boyhood. Without gushing over this film too much (plenty of reviews have already done that), it is excellent and will probably end up in my top 10 at the end of the year.