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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

'Boyhood' and the 'Before' Trilogy: Growing Up and Learning to Love.

Last Thursday night, I was in a bad mood. I think it was the end-of-holiday blues but for some reason or another, I was feeling a bit down. So I decided to do something I'd never considered before - I watched all three of Richard Linklater's hugely successful 'Before Sunrise', 'Before Sunset', and 'Before Midnight' movies back to back. And it worked like a charm.
I have been obsessed with Jesse and Celine's story ever since I watched the first instalment on a whim in October 2011. When I couldn't convince any of my friends to go with me to watch the final film, 'Before Midnight' which came out last summer, I simply went on my own. And I loved it... the movie and the solitude. I didn't have to worry about what my companion was thinking, I could just sit back and enjoy the movie I'd been eagerly anticipating for three years. It also meant I didn't have to share my Maltesers which is always a plus.
Without giving away any spoilers, these movies chart a relationship over a twenty year period. From when the American tourist and French student meet on a train and decide to explore Vienna for the night in 1994, to their chance reunion in 2004, and their family holiday in 2013, these films are beautifully accurate in their presentation of life, love, and relationships. We first meet Celine and Jesse as romantic dreamers in their early twenties, still trying to navigate life. Ten years later, they're more settled in their paths but still filled with the same self-doubt yet lacking their old romanticism. Another ten years go by and they're parents to beautiful twin girls, pursuing successful careers, yet dealing with an ugly custody battle that leads them to question the very basis of their relationship.
These movies have gained cult status for a reason. Some, namely my sister, have criticised these movies because they're mainly 'just talking'. To be fair, each movie largely consists of Celine and Jesse's converse and how it evolves over time. Some may hate this, I personally love it. Their discussions are thought-provoking and engaging. I never once lose the thread of the discourse. Ironically, I never keep up with Hollywood action-packed blockbusters because I don't feel invested enough in the story-line. Whereas with this trilogy, I'm interested in their relationship and feel emotionally invested in their future! One of my favourite moments in Jesse and Celine's story is in the final minutes of 'Before Sunset'. The two have just wandered all round Paris trying to avoid saying goodbye, Jesse has a plane to catch but somehow manages to convince Celine to play him one of his songs in her apartment. Having confessed how much that night in 1994 meant to him and how he wishes that they had pursued a relationship, Celine echoes his sentiments in her song. It's such a heart-warming moment - when they both realise that they should be together.
So when Richard Linklater's new movie, 'Boyhood', was released I knew it would live up to the hype surrounding it. This is the film everyone seems to be talking about at the moment. So last night, I convinced some girlfriends to see it with me and we were not disappointed. 'Boyhood' is intriguing audiences and acquiring box-office success because of its experimental nature. In 2002, Linklater cast the unknown child actor, Ellar Coltrane, as the star of his new movie - one that would take twelve years to film. For twelve days out of every year, the cast would get together and film a year in Mason's life. This film depicts all the landmarks of typical adolescence. - we first meet Mason at the age of six and follow him right up to the age of 18 when he leaves for college. He watches his parents break-up, the family move around Texas several times, his mother marries an abusive alcoholic, he goes on camping trips with his Dad, gets his first girlfriend, and discovers a passion for photography. In many ways, this movie depicts an ordinary life - and that's what is so beautiful about it.

For me and my friends, it was very strange to watch our childhood play out on screen. The actor who plays Mason is nineteen - the exact same age as us. So the cartoons he watched at the age of eight was what we were watching, we played the same video games, went through a similar awkward phase, and are all now at university... well, almost. He is part of our generation which made it impossible not to relate to him. It's one of those films that you have to discuss in great detail afterwards because so much happens in those two and a half hours. I personally loved the soundtrack, if only for the memories. The film is peppered with the hits of the past decade, including Coldplay, Sheryl Crow, Soulja Boy, and Gnarls Barkley. If I ever got lost as to what year it was, the music of the time guided me back. Interestingly, Linklater devotes more time on Mason's later years, as he's preparing for final exams and college. This is perhaps because childhood memories fade and become unclear while we remember our teenage years much more vividly.
It's clear to predict that a star has been born in Ellar Coltrane. I can't imagine what it must have been like for him all these years, knowing that he would be catapulted into a media frenzy when the movie of his life was finally released. He nails the role of sweet little boy with his head in the clouds who turns into the moody mumbling teenager. Like my love of Jesse and Celine, I felt similarly invested in Mason's emotional journey through to adulthood. It often felt like Ethan Hawke had reprised his role as Jesse - perhaps a more paternal, down-to-earth version. Whereas Patricia Arquette played the struggling single-mother with a weakness for dangerous men flawlessly. I loved her, felt sorry for her, yet wanting to scream at her all at the same time. Lorelai Linklater - the director's daughter - really stole the show at times, especially during those childhood years. But that was largely because of Mason's introverted nature and Samantha's child-like need for attention. She also went through the teenage girl rite-of-passage of dying her hair a ridiculous colour (see here for details) and ultimately breaks free of the nest, a happy, confident, and intelligent young woman. It was so fascinating to watch all the character's unique progression - even if they are only fictional.
Like the 'Before' trilogy, some might say this is a movie where not a lot happens. But if you assume that then you're missing the point completely. Linklater is a director bold enough to explore the beauty of day-to-day life. The 'Before' series isn't your typical rom-com - Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke tackle the reality of relationships in a way that the audience can relate to. 'Boyhood' isn't your typical coming-of-age story either. Instead, it's a frighteningly realistic portrayal of adolescence in the 21st century, and that's what has made it so successful. We like to claim that real life isn't like the movies... but Linklater has broken down this barrier. He has captured the beauty of reality so that it doesn't need to be romanticised in a cinematic fashion. He makes movies which depict the romanticism of life and this is why his films are so special.

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