Finding oneself

This is my review of Boyhood [Blu-ray].

The justifiably highly praised American film "Boyhood" reminds me of the BBC "Seven Up" series which featured a wide variety of characters every seven years to see how they developed. "Boyhood" was twelve years in the making, capturing aspects of a fictional boy's growing up between the ages of six and eighteen, using a cast of the same actors who are seen to be ageing over time.

Mason is a quiet, dreamy boy, upstaged by his bright, extrovert sister, played by the director Linklater's own daughter. His mother is a young single parent, desperately trying to "bring her kids up right, his father a charismatic ne'er-do-well who genuinely loves his children and makes an effort to keep in touch, forming a somewhat subversive element in their lives but maybe also encouraging Mason to "think outside the box".

Perhaps viewers who have raised children will be more engaged and moved by this film. It may fill American audiences with an element of nostalgia. For a British one, it is a fascinating portrayal of life in the States, as young schoolchildren swear their allegiance to the flag of Texas every morning, and fifteen-year-old Mason is presented with birthday gifts from a traditional old couple of an engraved bible and the family heirloom of a gun.

There are many moments of both humour and pathos, avoiding mawkish sentimentality or corniness. There are moments of the acute embarrassment, and navel-gazing of teenagers, but that is all part of the realism. Scenes in which Mason loses out in the competition with his sister to vie for his father's attention, or when young children pass a note in class to the "new boy" Mason are brilliantly acted, with the great naturalness which characterises much of the film. Dialogues are mainly convincing, if sometimes too rapid or mumbled for British ears to hear the punchlines.

I was never bored during this long film – 166 minutes – only a few scenes dragged or struck a false note for me, usually because of a weak performance from teenage actors playing minor parts. You may find it unconvincing that two of Mason's stepfathers develop a drink problem (and seem somewhat caricatured), but that could reflect Mason's somewhat conflicted mother's poor judgement in picking men.

The director enables us to feel some connection with all the main characters who are present throughout the film. It is a kind of soap, but more subtle and distinctive than any I have seen, perhaps because the scenes are selected to form a coherent thread leading to a clear conclusion. The film ends on the right note, leaving Mason on the brink of his college life, which seems likely to be fruitful, and the future open for the viewer to speculate.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 Stars

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