Honest coming-of-age tale Boyhood paints the joys and pains of growing up

Young actor Ellar Coltrane (far right), seen on the right with his co-stars Patricia Arquette (background) and Lorelei Linklater), has been filmed growing up in the movie.
Young actor Ellar Coltrane (far right), seen on the right with his co-stars Patricia Arquette (background) and Lorelei Linklater), has been filmed growing up in the movie.PHOTOS: UIP
Young actor Ellar Coltrane (far right), seen on the right with his co-stars Patricia Arquette (background) and Lorelei Linklater), has been filmed growing up in the movie.
Young actor Ellar Coltrane (far right), seen on the right with his co-stars Patricia Arquette (background) and Lorelei Linklater), has been filmed growing up in the movie.PHOTOS: UIP

Review - Drama - BOYHOOD (NC16)

166 minutes/Opens tomorrow/*****

The story: Olivia (Patricia Arquette) is a divorced single mother of two children, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), six, and his older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). Over the next 12 years, Mason sees his family change as his mother remarries and moves the family around Texas. Appearing ever so often is his father, Mason Sr (Ethan Hawke), a footloose dreamer who seems incapable of becoming a responsible parent.

Forget 3-D images, vibrating chairs and surround sound. Total immersion in a movie happens when a film-maker sees the world through the eyes of a child such as Mason.

From the first time cinemagoers see him, wondering why raccoons must die or being tormented by his sister's interpretation of Britney Spear's Oops I Did It Again, it is hard not to become deeply invested in this sensitive boy, saddled with burdens he did nothing to deserve.

The emotional investment will take the viewer into unexpected places. When the shiftless rat of a father (Hawke) shows up, there is a real pang of fear at the prospect of dad breaking Mason's heart when he predictably blows out of town after bathing everyone in his charisma.

No such thing happens and that is the power of this film. Mason Sr is indeed a charmer, but as he leaves, there is no bitterness, only sadness, because everything is filtered through the heart of a six- year-old who adores and forgives his father unconditionally.

Olivia (Arquette, giving an exquisite performance) is a do-it-all single mum. As the responsible counterpoint to the fun-seeking dad, Olivia is neither martyr nor killjoy. She loves her children, and emotionally, is a child herself. Often, Mason and Lorelei are forced to pierce the fog of adult self-delusion.

Knowing that director Richard Linklater shot the film as Coltrane grew up in real life will play a role in one's enjoyment of the film.

But being aware of the yearly gap between episodes in Mason's life is a knife that cuts two ways - if the story and characters had failed to charm, the sentiments were crudely served or the child actors had grown up to be unlikeable adults, the tightrope walk across the chasm of time could have ended in disaster.

Instead of a work of art, some may say this largely plotless movie's use of reality-show techniques is a cheat or a distracting gimmick. Maybe so, but Linklater uses the time-spanning method with such an articulate affection for the pain and joy of growing up.

This is a coming-of-age story that has taken ages to make, and every minute has been worth it.

johnlui@sph.com.sg

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