Tablet Life & Arts

SXSW: Linklater’s latest is an epic success

AUSTIN -- For several hundred South by Southwest-goers to get up and line up early on a Sunday morning -- after having stayed up very late Saturday night and losing an hour of sleep to Daylight Savings Time -- the film had to be something special.

And, thankfully, it was.

Boyhood, from Texas director Richard Linklater (the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy, Dazed and Confused), is the film he has been working on for more than a decade, filming in small increments every year so viewers would see the cast actually age. The film, which earned raves at Sundance, is a sweeping, nearly three-hour celebration of the mundane, following a boy from the certainties of grade-school youth through the roller coaster of adolescence and the coming adulthood of the college years. But it is also a brilliant summation of all of Linklater’s strengths.

As in the “Before” series, he crafts dialogue amid a family dynamic that feels less written than overheard. As in Dazed and Confused, he paints a picture of youthful bonhomie and interaction that speaks to a heartfelt knowledge of how young people think and talk.

For Texans, there’s the extra kick of cultural recognition. Set in San Marcos and Houston (where Linklater grew up), and covering the first dozen years of the 2000s, Boyhood captures a slice of Lone Star suburban life of the time -- whether it’s the flat vistas of the Gulf coastal plain or the lawn-sign war in the 2008 Obama-McCain campaign.

Ellar Coltrane ( Fast Food Nation) is the boy, Mason, whom we meet as he’s staring up at the sky while Coldplay’s celebratory Yellow plays on the soundtrack. We then meet his single mom (Patricia Arquette), his sister, and later his dad (Ethan Hawke). From there, viewers are swept into the currents and eddies of his life. There is no big, climactic event, but watching the cast, especially Mason, grow up before our eyes generates its own kind of drama.

Whether Boyhood, set for release this summer, can reach a broader audience beyond festivals remains to be seen. It’s about children and family, but it’s not a traditional family film. It’s about adults with the wrong partners, but it’s not a relationship drama. Parts are very funny, but it’s not a comedy. And it’s really long.

But it should rank as one of the most rewarding films of the year. Maybe that will be enough.