Film reviews: Boyhood | Begin Again

Linklater's latest film Boyhood tracks one youngster throughout his childhood. Picture: Contributed

Linklater's latest film Boyhood tracks one youngster throughout his childhood. Picture: Contributed

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ONE of the entertaining pitfalls in any movie dealing with passing years is the effect it has on actors, who accrue webs of fake skin, or greyed hair, yet in Hollywood rarely go bald, unless the character is a villain.

Boyhood (15)

Director: Richard Linklater

Running time: 166 minutes

* * *

An alternative approach is offered by Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, which was shot in short bursts over 12 years with the same actors. Given the fractured nature of the shoot, the film is remarkably fluent, and fortunate that young Ellar Coltrane is mostly an intriguing focus.

Linklater’s experiment is not entirely groundbreaking: Michael Winterbottom’s prison drama Everyday in 2012 tried the same thing over five years with Shirley Henderson, John Simm and four children. Both films have a fly-on-the-wall feel and focus on domestic incidents. The key difference is that Linklater wants to show how events big and small mould Mason (Coltrane).

We first meet him as a seven-year-old absorbed in collecting arrowheads and abusing pencil sharpeners, who fights with his slightly older sister (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter) while their harassed mother (Patricia Arquette) moves them to a new home.

Her estranged husband and Mason’s father is Ethan Hawke, and if there’s one thing we know from Linklater/Hawke’s previous passing-years project, the Before Sunrise trilogy, it’s that Hawke does love to talk. He’s not a constant in Mason’s life, but whether taking Mason and his sister for a drive around town, on a trip to step-grandparents, or distributing posters for Obama in 2008, Hawke’s motormouthed hipster never misses an opportunity to dispense impassioned monologues on topics as diverse as the Beatles, Star Wars and how to attract girls. Even at the bowling alley, he cannot stop parcelling out life lessons. Little Mason is getting dispirited because his bowls always end up in the gutter, and he asks if they can use inflatable bumpers that bounce the ball back into the alley. Absolutely not, says dad. Life doesn’t give you bumpers.

Mason’s journey to adulthood includes some pretty bad-luck bowls. His mother marries twice more, and across the timescape we see both men start out as upstanding potential father figures, then dwindle into puffy angry boozers. The reasons for these declines are opaque but guessable, and their effect is to imbue Mason with a quiet rebelliousness that becomes more obvious as he gets older and experiments with pot and girls

Like Everyday, Boyhood has a pacing problem. At nearly three hours it is far too long, especially in the final hour, with obvious exit points that Linklater ignores. Once he arrives in his late teens, Mason is as awkward, narcissistic and droning as any other teen. That’s an authentic part of growing up, but it takes up most of the final hour and doesn’t add weight, merely drag.

Another striking point is how enchanted the film is with boyhood and father figures, yet relatively uninterested in the women of the family. Lorelei Linklater’s transition from superbrat to poised woman is remarkable partly because it is underexamined, and the film only latterly finds some time to focus on the mother who did most of the parental heavy lifting while Masons Sr and Jr were out having fun times camping, bowling or shooting the breeze in cafes. Maybe there’s a Girlhood in the pipeline, but I think there’s more chance of Transformershood.

Begin Again (15)

* * *

Once was not enough for writer-director John Carney, who made his movie debut with a song-stuffed Dublin fairytale. Seven years later, he’s back with Begin Again, another sincere ditty that ponders how songwriting translates raw feelings into melody.

Music executive Dan (Mark Ruffalo) has been on a losing streak for years: the industry has changed, his wife (Catherine Keener) had an affair that broke up their marriage and his daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) regards him as a boozed-up absentee dad.

Gretta (Keira Knightley) has come to America with her musician boyfriend (Maroon 5’s Adam Levine), who quickly cheats on her and grows an Edward Lear beard. Since neither of these things are healthy in a relationship, she winds up ditched, depressed and singing one of her own compositions at a pub open mic night. In a nicely realised sequence, only Dan recognises the song’s potential, producing it in his head.

Begin Again has more than a whiff of “difficult second album” syndrome. It’s a more commercial proposition than Once, with bigger name artists, a less subtle romantic hook, and some clumsy twiddles; a clichéd New York night out is soaked in cutesiness, for instance, and when Dan claims he’s found the next Norah Jones, no-one winces.

Like Knightley’s singing, the storytelling is earnest and not as bad as you might think. The music is pleasant alt-rock, and the performances are appealing. Yet Begin Again still struggles to hit the right note.

• On general release from Friday

Mistaken For Strangers (15)

* * * *

As the lead singer of The National, Matt Berninger sells out major venues and includes President Obama amongst his fans. Tom Berninger is his younger, less successful brother, who joins the band as a roadie and decides to make a warts-and-all documentary.

The result might not ask burning questions of The National (“Do you take your wallets onstage?”) but it’s certainly a fascinating, loopy exploration of sibling pride and rivalry. Incidentally: Tom prefers Judas Priest.

• Glasgow Film Theatre, today and Monday; Edinburgh Filmhouse, Friday to 13 July

I Am Divine (E)

* * * *

An affectionate profile of Harris Glenn Milstead: profane drag star, John Waters’ muse on many of his early films, and even a successful disco diva, despite a voice that would frighten crows. Jeffrey Schwarz collates a lively bunch of contributors to recall the outsize, out-there Divine.

• Cameo, Edinburgh, 18 July

Tammy (15)

* *

Melissa McCarthy stars as another of her aggressive, annoying, oblivious boors, forced to take a trip with her boozy grandmother (Susan Sarandon in a grey wig and Simon Cowell-waisted leisure trousers).Co-written by McCarthy with her husband Ben Falcone,

who also directed, Tammy feels like a wasted opportunity. The guests stars include Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Kathy Bates and Dan Aykroyd, with Sarandon apparently game to send up her sexy sexagenarian image. Trouble is, everyone is trapped in a frantic, funless mess of a road movie headed nowhere.

• On general release

Mr Morgan’s Last Love (12A)

* *

Michael Caine stars as an American widower, alone in Paris and struggling to find much to live for, until he strikes up a friendship with a younger woman (Clémence Poésy). Well intentioned and nicely acted, but the drama struggles to overcome its maudlin premise.

• On general release from Friday

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