“It’s like real life is awesome” said actor Ethan Hawke while promoting the unique and revolutionary film Boyhood (qtd. in Johnson, “Into the Ordinary”). Boyhood captures the story of a young boy’s growth and transition through life during his early years. While the movie has a basic and seemingly unexciting plot, the actors’ natural execution of their character’s emotions and personalities is what ultimately fascinates the audience.
Adding to what Ethan Hawke said, Boyhood successfully showed that a movie with a simple life-like plot – that is shot using an unconventional production approach – can truly become a remarkable film. Without a doubt, the most unique aspect of Boyhood is the fact that it was shot over a period of twelve years. This long production time allows the film’s characters to parallel the real-life physical and emotional growth. As a result, the long story duration feels much more natural. In addition to the long story duration, the film’s screen time is also quite long at over two and a half hours. Interestingly, however, both of these extended durations do not negatively affect the film and instead influence the audience to want more. One way director Richard Linklater accomplishes this difficult feat is through the seamless transitions of age change, sometimes even within a sequence. Betsy Sharkey from the Los Angeles Times explains, “Mason walks down a hallway at one age, turns a corner and is a few years older.” Transitions like these subtly transfix the audience, helping them to them to forget traditional film characteristics like plot, catalyst, climax, and resolution and influences them to focus on the incredible physical and emotional journey that the characters take. Boyhood removes the dramatized aspect of the plot and focuses on presenting a natural and relatable story to the audience.
In order to achieve this organic feel, the acting had to look and feel natural from start to finish. It is an understatement to say that the actors had to maintain a high level of transparency in their characters. In other words, with the unique approach and “real-life” plot, the line between actor and character is incredibly thin. For example, for many of the actors, including Ellar Coltrane, who plays the main character, Mason, it is their first acting role. While it is true that the actors are still only acting, the movie is as much about the actors’ physical changes represented through the characters as it is about the actors portraying the character’s personality and emotional changes. Since the actors themselves grew up with the film, it is highly likely that their personal experiences in adjusting to the different stages in life helped add to the realistic feel of the film. Whether it is Mason’s inquisitive childhood facial expressions, Samantha’s sassy backtalking, or the mom’s powerful emotions when Mason left for college, for which actress Patricia Arquette received an academy award, each and every performance ultimately contributed to the widespread acclaim and success of the film.
As a whole, the actors in Boyhood effectively portrayed their characters’ personalities and emotions in a way that was both natural and believable. Their performances discreetly made the audience forget about their expectations of an exciting story and influenced them to be fully encapsulated in the film by forgetting time. Boyhood truly made real life awesome.
Johnson, Brett. “Into the ordinary with ‘Boyhood’ stars in Santa Barbara.” Ventura County Star. 6 February 2015. Web. 8 April 2015
Sharkey, Betsy. “‘Boyhood’ a startling, intimate portrait of a child growing up.” Los Angeles Times. 10 July 2014. Web. 8 April 2015.