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The boy who grew up in public

Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” is a coming-of-age story that was 12 years in the making

Nicholas Barber | July/August 2014

Watch Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” and its two exquisite sequels, and you’re given a candid, close-up view of the ageing process: Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy jump from their 20s to their 30s to their 40s before your very eyes. Now Linklater has squeezed that process into one poignant and profoundly satisfying new comedy-drama.

“Boyhood” is a chronicle of 21st-century American family life, set over a period of 12 years. The twist is that it was shot over a period of 12 years, too. When the project began, its star, Ellar Coltrane, was just seven. Every year Linklater would spend a few days shooting scenes with Ellar and his co-stars, including Hawke and Patricia Arquette, both superb as his estranged parents. Then they would do the whole thing again a year later.

Finally, Linklater pieced the segments together into a heart-swelling 163 minutes: as the leading boy loses and gains friends, experiments with cigarettes and alcohol, tastes first love and edges towards higher education, Coltrane himself transmogrifies from a mop-headed cherub to a gangling, bum-fluffed teenager. It’s an unnerving exercise in time-lapse photography.

“It was a problem-solving thing,” Linklater tells me. “I was trying to make a film about childhood, but the themes and ideas I had were dispersed over too many years for me to fit them all together. Then I had my ah-ha moment.”

He knew that filming over 12 years would be “wildly, ridiculously impractical” on several levels. “And yet I thought it would be a powerful storytelling technique. We made a low-budget indie epic, and there aren’t a lot of those.” ~ Nicholas Barber

Boyhood opens in Britain and America July 11th

FILM AT A GLANCE

Begin Again (July 11th). John Carney, the director of “Once”, saw his tiny indie film become a colossal hit on screen and then on stage. Can “Once” happen twice? Another metropolitan romance about an aspiring singer-songwriter, “Begin Again” stars Mark Ruffalo as a washed-up record executive who makes sweet music with Keira Knightley in New York.

Jupiter Ascending (July 25th). A janitor (Mila Kunis) gets caught up in an intergalactic war. The Wachowskis write and direct, so this should be more spectacular, and philosophical, than the average blockbuster. It may be more ridiculous, too.

Joe (July 25th). Could another McConaughey-style reinvention be looming? As a hard-drinking, heavily tattooed ex-con with anger-management issues, Nicolas Cage is restrained, eschewing his customary bug-eyed loopiness (and toupée). He’s never been better.

Mood Indigo (Aug 1st). Audrey Tatou stars in a romantic French tragicomedy that makes “Amélie” seem naturalistic. Directed by Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine...”), this isn’t a film so much as a funhouse, stocked with Gondry’s home-made puppets and Wallace & Gromit gadgetry. 

Dinosaur 13 (Aug 15th). Todd Douglas Miller’s gripping doc on the palaeontologists who dug up the world’s most complete T-rex skeleton, only to lose it to another lethal predator: the FBI.

2 Days, 1 Night (Aug 22nd). Marion Cotillard dims her aura to play a woman who will lose her low-paying job if she can’t persuade colleagues to give up their bonus. The Dardennes’ captivating drama has a Hollywood-friendly plot, but its depiction of life on the Belgian breadline is raw and real. 

Mystery Road (Aug 29th). Australia proves to be no country for old men, or young women, in this rugged outback police drama. ~ NB

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