by NEVIL GIBSON
Life in the movies can’t be much more realistic than using the same cast over a dozen years playing their characters as they age.
Documentary makers have used this technique, but it is rare — if not unique — in a major Hollywood production.
Writer-director Richard Linklater is not new to “real time” films: his trilogy of Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013) uses the same couple — Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy — over a 12-year period.
These are talky films with the actors encouraged to improvise their dialogue. But they differ completely from so-called “reality shows” on TV where participants are encouraged to behave badly as themselves, rather than embrace a character.
Linklater has also made other films set in a confined time zone — for example, Dazed and Confused.
Hawke was also cast as the father in Boyhood (Universal), which tracks a boy (Ellar Coltrane) from age six to his graduation from high school at 18.
Patricia Arquette, who, like Hawke, has had a successful if not stellar career, is remarkable as she goes through all the highs and lows the script delivers.
Early on, she becomes a divorced solo parent as Hawke proves unreliable as a partner and
a source of income. However, his connection to his children remains intact throughout, with recurring if infrequent contact.
The mother’s next two relationships are equally unsuccessful — one is a teacher and the other an Iraqi war veteran-turned-prison officer. Both become alcoholic and abusive, although initially they make a good impression.
Despite these setbacks, including a desperate flight to a refuge centre, the mother’s devotion to her son and daughter (played by Linklater’s own daughter, Lorelei)
This provides the backbone to the dozen years that unfold and the family’s fortunes wax and wane.
Coltrane evolves from being the target of bullies, goes through the sullen early teenage growing pains and finally emerges as a young man with a strong interest in photography
(one that Coltrane himself developed in real life).
It’s a remarkable transition in which Linklater uses music as a linking mechanism — from the father’s attempt to carve out a career, to singalongs as the wider family gathers.
Another strong motif is the physical settings — in various houses and locations around Texas
— that also show the passing of time and fashion.
Major political events pop up in the background, most notably the invasion of Iraq. Although none of the events are highly dramatic in themselves, they build into an absorbing story that goes well beyond the gimmicky premise.
Some might say a nearly three hour film could have been made a lot easier by just ageing the actors with makeup. That may go for adults in most films but it is impossible with children.
Although claims for uniqueness hold up, they are not just the only reason why this is one of the best films of the year.
Rating: Mature audiences (violence, offensive language and drug use); 162 minutes.
by NEVIL GIBSON