This summer looks to be a promising time for the big blockbusters synonymous with the season. It’s the perfect time to make a trek to the nearest drive-in and see Transformers: Age of Extinction, or perhaps you’d rather dip into the air conditioned theater and see the bigger-than-ever Godzilla towering on the IMAX screen. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes should bring us all back to see a much-beloved group of characters that earned audiences over with few words, mostly grunts, and admirable skills in combat, and The Expendables 3 hopes to do the same. There is a tendency to lose track of the smaller films in the midst of the explosions and CGI creatures, which is why I want to take a bit of time to shed some light on Boyhood, one of my most anticipated films of the year on a level that competes with the blockbusters.
As the trailer shows, Richard Linklater took an unorthodox approach to filming this movie, the likes of which few have attempted before. In 2002, Linklater cast 8-year-old Ellar Coltrane as Mason in a film that follows his journey from childhood into adolescence up until the age of 18, the precipice of adulthood. He shot the film over the next 12 years, allowing Coltrane to portray his character in real time as he aged, along with the actors playing his parents, Patricia Arquette and Linklater’s long-time collaborator Ethan Hawke (who co-wrote the “Before” series of films with Linklater and starred in them).
It’s not unusual to see films that attempt to tell stories which cover an extended scope of time, or to use the same actors to accomplish this. In last year’s Lee Daniels’ The Butler, both Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey play their characters from 1957 to 2008, a span of over 50 years, which is achieved relatively convincingly with minor prosthetics and make-up. CG has been used to make actors appear younger as well, such as this scene from 2010’s Tron Legacy featuring Jeff Bridges squaring up against a younger version of himself. Both of these techniques require some suspension of disbelief, and in my opinion, the latter does end up being a bit creepy. Most often when it comes to children in film, they are cast with different actors at different ages to compensate for the changes that children go through that are too radical to merely fudge over with makeup. What I admire about Linklater’s unconventional choice is that it potentially adds a layer of meaning to the film. If this film means to convey the significance of the formative events of a young boy’s life, it only strengthens that sentiment to portray it to the audience in as authentic a way as possible.
I really admire Linklater as both a director and a screenwriter, as he’s been able to do both cerebral and popular films with success, and brings this tender human element to them that really communicates authenticity. His early works like Slacker (1991) and Dazed and Confused (1993) were deftly handled works that drew from American counter-culture and have both become cult favorites in their own right. His interpretation of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly (2006) is memorable for it’s unique visuals achieved through rotoscoped animation. Perhaps his most commercial success has been 2003’s School of Rock (which he directed but Napoleon Dynamite’s Mike White penned) which is a far more accessible comedy that still delivers some pretty touching moments between Jack Black’s screw-up substitute and his class. Still, Linklater is at his best when he is uncompromising in his vision, a little off center, and delivering a movie that has a way of convincing you that it is the precise film that you’ve been wanting to watch, even though you never realized it. I’ve spoken more than once about how the phenomenal trilogy of Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), and Before Midnight (2013) have quietly proven themselves to be three of the best contemporary films that examine romance, and they are unquestionable examples of the heartfelt, humanist touch of Linklater’s work.
Early buzz from Boyhood making the festival circuit has been positive, and the rest of us will get to see if we agree with the critics starting July 11th. If you feel like a reprieve from the summertime explosions, keep Boyhood in mind.
Are there any smaller films that you’re looking forward to seeing this year? What are your most anticipated, big or small? Drop a comment below, and please share if you enjoyed reading.