Reviews

Oxstu’s writers review the latest releases.

THE RIOT CLUB; POSH
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The Riot Club: a dangerous fable of youth in revolt

 

 

Films aren’t their source texts, and they aren’t – unless otherwise stated – documentaries either. Debate rages as to the true purpose of a film (Art? Entertainment? Catharsis?), but going into one with the expectation it will somehow miraculously deliver the truth to us on a plate is naive. Still, this is a mistake critics ambling into previews of The Riot Club seem to insist on making.

 

I’ve made my point previously as to whether I think it’s useful to pin down film to a political agenda (if you don’t want to go fishing for the article, short version: I don’t) and the same can be said of its ability to incite regional or social stereotype. Without rehashing my previous argument, I think it’s valid to point out that all films are set within context. Scorsese: New York. Tarantino: the American South. The writers of BBC2’s Good Cop, two years ago: Liverpool. Films don’t speak for communities, or there would be a revolution of dissent every time we wrote conflict in a city area onto the screen. Good screen work simply flavours its project with the inflections of a particular social world, but neither appropriates, nor communicates for them; if it avoided them completely, the medium would lose something of its magic.

 

So, when Universal Studios invited me to preview The Riot Club at their official press screening last week, I entered the cinema studio with far less trepidation than some of the Old Oxonian reviewers calling the film out for not adequately representing their Oxford (circa, naturally, 1999). Apparently, the film has two categories, and two categories only, by which it can be judged: is it true to the political bite of its originating play, and does it honestly portray the Oxford experience of every single viewer who happens to have walked these hallowed academic cobbles?

 

Well. Firstly, any critic previewing a film who believes the translation of stage drama to screen doesn’t necessitate some kind of creative adaptation (or that the experience of myriad individuals can be accounted for in ninety minutes of screen time, while still miraculously generating a coherent plot and dramatic conflict) seriously needs to reconsider their understanding of the film medium as a whole. In the stage play Posh, we’re claustrophobically thrust into the company of ten young men in a single setting (the private dining room), descending – through turns of Wade’s acerbically comic dialogue – from refined banter to angry chaos; it’s bookended with scenes in a gentleman’s club’s drawing room, as a preview of the graduate version of The Riot Club, where troubles are washed away by money and the contacts in somebody’s little black book. Onstage, this is electric. Onscreen, this would shudder to a boring halt twenty minutes in. So, the plot is necessarily revitalised: scenes are drafted into college quads, Broad Street, tiny dorms, and a country manor, before we finally find ourselves locked away with the Riot Boys in their exclusive den.

 

Yes, it’s fair to say the film also neglects to concentrate its efforts on the entire student body of “our” Oxford. You don’t find the camera lingering on any of the other stereotypes we’re fond of. The Wadhamite vegan warriors don’t get a look in. Nobody is going to war over a slot at the O’Reilly either.

 

No, Scherfig’s Oxford is not my Oxford – nor is it the highly offended critic’s. It is also not the student population’s. Instead, it is an Oxford refracted through the imaginative collaboration of an Oscar-nominated director, an acclaimed dramatist, a gifted production team and a group of highly talented, gusty young actors. This might be an Oxford dreamt up without the insight of somebody who spent their formative days here, but such speculations are the driving force of all good stories. Let’s not change our minds now, just because it angles close to home. “Accuracy” was never fiction’s thing anyway.

Formal Hall - The Riot Club

 

Quite simply, there’d be no fun or fight in a film without a splash of imagination – regardless of how much they tell you at Night School to “write what you know”.

 

Instead, the film glances, anthropologically, into its imaginary world: into the lives of young people who, for the first time, are supposed to ask questions about the way they live, and who they’re supposed to be. The storyline is fairly predictable: two affluent new boys (Max Irons as Miles and Sam Claflin as Alistair, respectively) join the same college, swap dorms (in a telling exchange with Oedipally-challenged Alistair’s vicarious father), and, nominated by seasoned patrons, are invited to initiate in a secretive, privileged drinking society known as The Riot Club. Despite their ideological differences – the boys are virtually at one another’s throats in a telling tute scene, where vehemently leftwing Miles is countered by a cynical Alistair – both are invited to join the club. Ignoring Lauren’s advice, Miles is enticed; the camaraderie, promise of hedonism and, most importantly, of group membership located within that intense space between brotherhood and friendship, are too much to resist. But as the plot unravels, tensions of power inevitably begin to surface within the club itself, and – when these are married to an outdated sense of entitlement, individual bitternesses, a pervading sense that these boys have no idea how to behave in the real world, and a cocktail of alcohol, coke and rage – things take a sinister turn.

 

Lone Scherfig doesn’t do polemical films; she’s too experienced and too respectful of her own art form to digress that way. It saves itself from being the kind of condemnatory, embittered satire it might have become in the hands of even the most talented Brit director (escaping the veneer of prejudice in art is much more difficult when we’re living within the systems engineering it). There’s enough self-aware appreciation of the exclusive allure of these clandestine worlds in the project to stop it becoming hypocritically preachy: the fraction of a second’s thought before the landlord can respond to Claflin’s menacingly goading, “You love me; you want to be me”, and Hugo’s reminder to Miles when he starts bailing on the fracas, “you wanted to be part of this” – these are speaking as much to (and maybe for) the audience as they are the characters. Everybody involved in The Riot Club (both fictional and real) from production team to audience, is constantly reminded of the seductive appeal of groups like this one – groups that supposedly guarantees friendship, hegemony, privilege, a good time and, crucially, protection. They simultaneously repulse and fascinate.

 

 

Like any decent film, The Riot Club avoids hollering a single political message from the rigging; it isn’t a broadsheet opinion column and it’s not trying to be. The characters are by turns sympathetic and chilling for a good reason – to complicate our reaction to them. They might be a charming band of thugs, but they’re thugs nonetheless; and yet, all thugs have their reasons. The sickening crunch of Sam Claflin’s head whacking the sidewalk opposite Blackwell’s during the exposition sequence is enough to get us asking the right questions: when it comes down to his suspicious, resentful attitude – can we blame him? With all the prerequisite disillusioned markers of hooliganism, veneered in a particularly enticing brand of confident, drawling charisma, these boys feed our fascination with the decadently filthy. Even as spectators who can never access their world – a) because this is fiction and b) because if it were real, we’d “never be the right sort” to join – we’re complicit in feeding the fascination that is posh boys at play. It’s a film intelligent enough to realise we can’t escape how much we love to hate these boys… so we’re the ones egging them on.

 

The strength lies in inspired casting, and the management of the relationships between characters. It is not a plot that lends itself to being easily driven by one protagonist, so it doesn’t; we might largely trail Miles, but it’s not just his show. This is not a piece for a leading man and his supporting cast, and in rending a film where its key motif is the oscillating dynamics of power, Scherfig has harnessed and exposed some of the brightest young stars of today’s film scene. Freddie Fox as the hapless, easily-led Club President James quivers and deigns in all the right places for a film playing with the theme of hypocrisy; Ben Schnetzer, Jack Farthing, Matthew Beard, Josh O’Connor and Olly Alexander counterpoint with all the raucous eagerness of kids willing to play along as club back-members vying for status; and Australian actor Sam Reid imbues an out-of-time Wildean Hugo with the correct degree of repression in every sense of the word. Veteran actor Tom Hollander’s cameo role is lived-in, expressing the kind of lazy sense of security that becomes any gang’s seasoned old-timer. And it is in the “opposition cast” – the three female leads, and Tony Way as the eager but conflicted landlord – that the film shines brightest: the opposition illustrates a still-standing chasm between classes, but not in a way that overtly condemns one over the other. The misunderstandings are mutual.

 

The three drawing names of the cast are undoubtedly Miles (Irons), Alistair (Claflin) and fellow Brit boy Douglas Booth, playing the viciously charismatic Harry Villiers. Reviewers’ focus seems to fall repeatedly on these actors’ looks, as though attractive faces carry performances by default. Actually, good looks would hinder them if uncoupled with serious attention to actually acting the parts; they aren’t meant to be wholly likeable, after all. Max Irons might come from acting pedigree, but that doesn’t mean he avoids working hard at capturing Miles’ conflicted mix of well-meaning, moralistic but curious and eager youth. He loses his grip at exactly the right rate to make the performance heartbreakingly nuanced, and believable. Booth’s womanising champion fencer Villiers is obviously seductive, but in a chilling, mechanical, dead-eyed sort of way; affecting that level of feigned interest, before allowing it to disintegrate into desperate misogyny, is a feat made so much harder when everyone seems to expect a typical leading man. He imbues gravitas into his role as covert leader of the pack, while still affecting the right insecurities. His smile is one you don’t want to be on the wrong end of. Booth’s accomplished, sinister performance is an actor’s, not a model’s.

 

Max Irons - Blood

 

Ultimately, it is Claflin’s Alistair Ryle who ends up show-stealing; undercurrents of darkness are visible from the off, but disguised by a considered, elegant maturity with an attention to detail that echoes the heyday of acting which characterised some of the great 1970s films. He lingers and takes his time over his performance where he pleases, building to a gleefully sociopathic climax with unnerving confidence. If Claflin isn’t winning awards yet, then he ought to be soon: his treatment of a complex, vulnerable but ultimately disgusting character foreshadows what should be an illustrious career in character acting. Without giving away spoilers, watch out for the moment which made a room full of professional critics gasp in horror, and you’ll see what I mean.

 

In putting these actors together, where Wade and Scherfig have definitely managed to echo the Oxford we know is in the hesitating, bumbling interactions and halting miscommunications of fresher’s week and that very first Michaelmas term. It is the bittersweet inverse-Lady and the Tramp relationship that blossoms between Lauren (Holliday Grainger) and Miles we see some truth about the fallibility of our own “cleverness”; that particular chemistry which only exists in the novelty of opposite worlds is palpable. She is the “bootstrappy northerner” dazzled by Miles’s easygoing confidence, the first in her family to attend Oxbridge, meritocratic and unpretentious; he is equally enamoured of her gutsiness, the fierceness that gets her to where she is and sets her apart from “those other girls” he’s known before. Miles and Lauren illuminate how class is important to the film, but the film does not betray a preference for state school over public school (as a metonym for lower class over upper) so much as it highlights the way today’s Oxford becomes a melting pot of young, keen but as-yet unexpanded minds. The anachronistic Riot Boys, clambering to hold onto their historical privilege, become monsters simply because they have no real place in that world – because they refuse to let go of a nonexistent fable that privileges them for no reason but name. The Riot Club cares about Oxford, but its cast of characters can’t comprehend what Oxford is. They scoot along the underbelly of a world that has moved on from them, and the power they have access to only operates in the shadows – which is what makes their existence so tragic.

 

Whether or not Miles’ and Lauren’s relationship turns out for better or worse, their awkward, not-quite-on-the-same-page-but-trying interactions are a keen-eyed metaphor for how this university takes its students from the edge of confident adolescence, and tips them over into the unexplored terrain of adulthood. It’s a metaphor that persists throughout. Mistakes happen. People are hurt. Friendship does not always follow the rules we set for it. There are uglier sides to all of us than we ever imagined growing up, and we only figure out where we stand when we’re confronted with the opportunity to choose.

 

Of course, it isn’t perfect (and I’m aware people are going to think I’ve been brainwashed by the nice people at Universal if I say otherwise). Yes, the opening sequence – a soft-edged throwback to the 1700s and the days of the club’s original founding, with the dreamy focus of seasoned cinematographer Sebastian Blenkov to thank for its odd surreality – jars a little with the pared-back anti-Hollywood realism of the rest of the film, but our flashback dalliance is brief enough to be forgiven as a necessity to plot set-up. Also: Aston Martin, Broad Street. I’ll leave that one up to you. But that final shot of Claflin, all one-time smile and reassembled self, tailored coat and leather glove? Cinema gold.

 

The truth is this: it’s a political film, yes – in some ways, all films are. It bites where it should hurt into people who need to remember nobody is above their past, and money and connections do not absolve us of our mistakes. As such, it is bound to cause controversy. Films will always dally with reality, just as much as reality will have its hand in fantasy. Anybody who refuses to admit the Riot Boys to the cobblestones of an imaginary Oxford is somebody confusing the two, and that smacks suspiciously of fear – fear, perhaps, which only arises when something bowls too close to home. I stand by my former prediction, that the film is a fresh interrogation of gang culture; but, along with this, it is an interrogation of what it means to be young and on the cusp of adulthood. Before Posh came to the theatre, a 2006 Contemporary Theatre Review interview with Laura Wade called her an “urban fabulist”. They got it right. Wade deals in fables; Posh was her swansong, and The Riot Club, its cinematic realisation. It is a cautionary tale about the mistakes we can make when we chase our place in our world, and a dangerous fable of youth in revolt. Go and see it. You have to.

 

 

Lone Scherfig’s The Riot Club is released in UK cinemas on September 19th. 

Guardians_of_the_Galaxy
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Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

A racoon. A tree. A green woman. A hunk of tattooed red muscle. Two blue villains. Surprisingly, the central character of the film hails from what we’d call Earth, and looks completely normal. Some may even go as far as to say pretty average looking (no offence Chris Pratt).

Guardians of the Galaxy is a space action adventure that doesn’t tie itself in complex plot-knots. Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord) is taken from his home planet as a child and grows up with thieves and back-alley dealers as a family. They may be a bit rough around the edges, but as is reiterated, they didn’t eat him. His latest job – to recover a silver orb from an abandoned world – doesn’t go to plan, and Quill ends up in a high-security prison with the ragtag bunch Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). Simultaneously, bad guy Ronan the Accuser is waging a war to destroy the planet, but to do so he needs the orb. Thus, the Guardians of the Galaxy are born – though to begin with, teamwork is definitely not their strong suit.

GotG was largely viewed as Marvel’s biggest, weirdest risk in amongst the success of its ‘Avengers initiative’, a franchise which has set the bar for the superhero/comic-based genre. It certainly can’t be denied that the trailers released in the previous months did nothing to transform people’s doubt. Instead the trailers emphasised the film’s differences as much as possible in the space of several minutes.

GotG always appeared a bizarre concept, and the filmmakers unashamedly celebrated this fact.

Strangely enough it is a risk that has paid off, and GotG is in good cinematic shape. It is frankly one of the most fun, laugh-inducing mainstream oddities of its genre. Perhaps its most striking success is that it doesn’t come off as a mere botched attempt to be ‘anti-Avengers’.

The jokes and general sarcasm are what make GotG a great watch.

The minute you snort unexpectedly into your popcorn, there’s no turning back.

With a gag-a-minute, one or two inevitably fall flat, but the pace is picked back up almost immediately. Priceless moments will win you over whether you love it or loathe it.

The comedy has one major drawback; the action is compromised. The seriousness of the situation at hand (evil blue villain trying to destroy/conquer the galaxy while murdering millions) is downplayed far too much. Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) doesn’t have enough screen time to justify the terror his name induces, nor does he prove to be much of a challenge to a group of misfit criminals. The film seems massively unbalanced in terms of tone, as when the danger is supposed to become very real the tension barely cranks up a notch. Instead everyone is waiting for the next joke, including to some extent the Guardians themselves. Peter ‘Star-Lord’ Quill busting moves in a pile of rubble as Ronan prepares for mass destruction is an example of a laugh too far for true threat credibility. Is anyone even paying attention to the villain? Isn’t this his crucial scene? Poor Lee Pace.

As a summer blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy is a fresh and funny Marvel film that’s basically a parody of itself. It’s anti-hero, anti-serious, and essentially anti-expectation. GotG is a bold move from director James Gunn. With whispers of a confirmed sequel in the wind, hopefully he’s prepared to bring more of the same madcap entertainment to us soon.

 


Rheanna-Marie Hall also attended the Guardians of the Galaxy press conference on behalf of the OxStu. The panel included Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and director James Gunn. Read about her experience here.

 

lucy-movie-poster
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Review: Lucy

 

Luc Besson’s films haven’t received much praise over the past few years and unfortunately his latest release, Lucy, does nothing to change that fact. Starring both Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman, this film had the potential to be pretty darn great, but it fell short at just about every hurdle. The film follows the story of Lucy, a student who is captured and forced into becoming a drug mule when a packet of a new drug, CPH4, sewn into her abdomen. Her story takes a turn for the worse when she is violently attacked, causing the drugs packet inside of her to burst, releasing very large amounts of the drug, which increases the user’s brain function capacity, into her bloodstream. Lucy immediately begins to develop powerful mental talents such as telekinesis, the ability to absorb information instantaneously and mental time travel amongst other things.

The fact that Lucy passed under the radar in terms of popular summer film releases surprised me at first, but on seeing the film, this surprise quickly evaporated. Whilst the plot is intriguing and there are some superb special effects, the two don’t quite mesh together and the film begins to crumble as soon as it begins. Typical of Besson’s films, there are a number of interesting special effects, and its visual nature makes it an attractive piece, yet the attempt to combine complex action sequences with what could have been an intricate and intelligent story about the capacity of the human brain results in a muddle (a beautiful muddle, but a muddle nonetheless).

Of course, audiences don’t need (or often want) a comprehensive explication of the science behind these sorts of films, but Besson doesn’t even provide enough information to support a basic understanding of what viewers are seeing. He leaves the audience completely baffled as to what exactly is going on for all 89 minutes of this film.

One of the key issues in this film is the fact that it seems just too ambitious. In his ‘Statement of Intent’, Besson compares Lucy to Nolan’s Inception. Really, Besson? This film seems lost and misguided, unsure of where it’s going and what it’s trying to be. At several points through the film, the audience would burst into laughter, but whether Besson intended this is unclear. I certainly wouldn’t classify Lucy as a comedy.

While it begins with promise, with suggestions of a complex plot in the vein of a serious thriller, it swiftly degenerates into a slew of meaningless action sequences reminiscent of Besson’s Hitman.

The film’s only saving grace is Scarlett Johansson, whose performance is nuanced both when destroying her enemies and in the film’s quieter moments. Yet while the acting is commendable, without a coherent plot to support it, it all goes to waste.

Indeed, Lucy has received very mixed reviews from critics since its release, but a lot of those reviews tend to be along the lines of ‘it’s better than expected’. I would argue that that doesn’t equal ‘worth watching’. All in all, Lucy had the potential to be a great film, but its poor execution left me feeling confused and disappointed.

the-honourable-woman-poster
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Why The Honourable Woman is worth a watch

Four episodes in and the secrets of The Honourable Woman are very slowly being revealed. The oblique, and occasionally self-indulgent, nature of Hugo Blick’s thriller has certainly perturbed some viewers (the swelling orchestra music and artistically angled still shots are growing a little tiresome, though are beautifully shot). However, those of us who have persevered look set to be rewarded.

A superb cast, led by the commanding Maggie Gyllenhaal, and intelligent dialogue have helped keep this viewer glued to the screen despite frustratingly slow progress on the central plot (why, oh why, does everyone seem so unconcerned about Kassim, the young boy kidnapped at the end of the first episode?). Yet, the web of seemingly disparate events and conversations is starting to come together, and the indulgently gradual progress is now only adding to the satisfaction. The large section of flashback to Nessa and Atika’s capture provided by this latest episode (‘The Ribbon Cutter’) cut through several layers of uncertainty, and raised many more questions in Blick’s carefully crafted narrative.

The showing of Nessa’s rape at the hands of her guard, Saleh al-Zahid, was difficult to watch but, perhaps, necessary in understanding the trauma experienced by the two women captured in Gaza. It certainly left no question as to the paternity of Nessa’s child who we can (probably) assume to be Kassim. The identity of the rapist’s father as the elderly leader of Fatah, Zahid al-Zahid certainly added another dimension; his expression of victory in having “infected” the bloodline of Eli Stein was truly chilling. Zahid’s “plans” for Nessa Stein also opened up a whole array of possibilities for the conclusion of The Honourable Woman.

This was all shown in contrast with a truly happy scene of the family gathered in celebration of Ephra and Rachel’s baby daughter Judith. Ephra’s fall from smug business leader to a man laid prostrate before the Israelis begging for help in rescuing Nessa from a mess at least partly of his own creation, was wonderfully acted by Andrew Buchan. Indeed, an interesting parallel was drawn between the two siblings as they both prostrated themselves before very differing figures.

With such strong female leads like Gyllenhaal and the excellent Lubna Azabal, the male characters seem weak in comparison.

A deliciously frank conversation between MI6’s Julia Walsh and Monica Chatwin (excellently played by Janet McTeer and Eve Best) told us how such a beaten-down figure as Stephen Rea’s Hugh Hayden-Hoyle was placed in charge of the Middle East desk. Yet, given the opening remarks of his wife after a disastrous dinner party, might we see a change in his lack-lustre approach in the coming weeks? Indeed, how did that FBI agent’s death figure into the overall picture, or was that merely an excuse to rack up some excitement for viewers?

The fifth episode ‘Two Hearts’ will have aired at the date of publication, so those of you already hooked by the series may well know some of the answers posed by the halfway point. But I’m sure that much will have been left just as uncertain. If you haven’t yet joined the viewership of The Honourable Woman, a few hours of iPlayer catch-up is surely warranted. Whilst I can’t predict the final course of Blick’s murky thriller, this is a bold series of considerable intelligence. The Honourable Woman airs Thursday nights at 9pm on BBC2. Get immersed.

Blue Ruin
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Great independent cinema: Blue Ruin

An old polaroid photograph, spinning under the harsh glare of a microwave bulb, catches on fire, a salacious image evaporating from its surface in coils of murky smoke. The picture is destroyed, but the memory of the moment lingers in the minds of the people in the photograph. Has this present act of destruction imbued past moments with greater meaning? Such poignant moments of contemplation punctuate Blue Ruin, a crowd funded art house thriller, elevating it above its revenge genre roots, and creating an insightful yet heart pounding tale that builds to a gut wrenching climax. Writer, director and cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier performs a high wire act, balancing an engaging and compassionate human drama about duty and obligation with a cold and distant tone which underscores the story’s nihilistic message.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qt1m_MG9Vwo]

 

The blue of the title is an omnipresent force in the film, both with regards to the washed out colour palette which deviates from the genre’s conventional darkness, as well as in the perpetually lugubrious protagonist Dwight, to whom we are first introduced as he scavenges for food from the dumpsters on the periphery of a rundown boardwalk fairground. Portrayed with a wide eyed animalistic quality by the superb Macon Blair, Dwight remains enigmatic for much of the film, as details of his family’s tragic past are gradually revealed, and we see him transformed from the shell-shocked outcast of the opening scenes into an ambiguously reluctant vigilante attempting to balance his family’s present safety with his duty to avenge their past. The decision to withhold the entirety of Dwight’s motivations from the audience for much of the film keeps the audience at a distance, and so despite our sympathy we remain consistently apprehensive of our animalistic protagonist. This disconnect allows the pain inflicted against Dwight’s enemies to register more strongly with the audience, which adds emotional texture. The film is carried by Blair’s stunningly confident performance, which seethes with melancholic despair.

Dwight’s passionless quest for vengeance reinforces the film’s oppressive coldness. It is no coincidence that Dwight’s mission to avenge his family sees him acquire a light blue shirt and a cleaner haircut. He begins to resemble an average white-collar family man, and so Saulnier illustrates how upholding societal bonds requires Dwight to transgress against society itself.Indeed, every character in the film is operating under a sense of obligation to forces greater than themselves, with the film’s backdrop of endless American wastelands underscoring the its examination of liberty and the restricted nature of personal freedom.

Throughout the film, Saulnier shrewdly restricts his camera’s movements to an unnaturally slow pace, with shots that creep through the wide open but deserted settings maintaining a scene of sombre dread that is magnificently sustained across the entire 90 minute running time. Every scene, be it a terse discussion in a diner, or one of the film’s stunningly executed home invasion set pieces, is constructed so as to simmer with threat and malice. In the protracted finale that takes place in a secluded lake house, every doorway or darkened corner lying just out of focus becomes a potential hiding place. Still, the film is aware of the ridiculousness of its situations, such as when Dwight attempts a quick getaway from a crime scene in a white limousine with passengers still trapped in the back, which is played both as a moment of black comedy, but also as a means of reigniting the tension briefly lost in the violent catharsis of the previous scene. It is this mastery in manipulating the audience and sustaining tension that allows the film to feel excruciatingly taut, despite the languorous tone and simple plotting.

Blue Ruin is a masterful piece of American filmmaking that speaks to both genre aficionados and art house junkies. In the film’s dilapidated heartland setting, the script finds ample thematic territory regarding the individual’s connection through societal bonds, duty and shared pasts. Its flawless execution of a slow narrative build aside, it is Blue Ruin’s gratifying resolution that will ensure that it lingers in the minds of its audience, long after their heart rates have returned to normal.

boyhood-movie-poster
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Review: Boyhood

In his long-awaited time-lapse drama Boyhood, Richard Linklater ingeniously pairs a parade of childhood staples with a decade-sprawling evocative soundtrack. The film achieves the perfect balance of universality and specificity in constructing the childhood of Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), resulting in a time capsule of experiences recognisable to an entire generation of children and their parents.

Although Boyhood is inevitably episodic, it is never disjointed; the passage of time is easy to perceive yet never too sudden. Despite the realism that results from the film’s key conceit, Linklater’s vision of an American boyhood is an idealised one. For all its frank documenting of the tyranny of Mason’s abusive alcoholic stepfather Bill (Marco Perella) Mason’s childhood is curiously free of illness, broken bones and the death of pets or grandparents.

Although much press coverage has focused on the fruitfulness of Linklater’s 2002 decision to cast the 6 year-old Coltrane, plaudits are also due to the director’s daughter Lorelei Linklater, who gives a fabulously precocious turn as Mason’s older sister Samantha.

Linklater’s long-term collaborator, Ethan Hawke, is less of a presence than promotional material suggests. For the majority of the film, Hawke’s Mason Sr. is an even worse kind of father than Before Midnight’s Celine (Julie Delpy) accused him of being. The archetypal weekend-dad, he treats Mason and Samantha to bowling trips and junk food before leaving his ex-wife (Patricia Arquette) to deal with the consequences, as well as the day-to-day struggles of parenthood.

Boyhood is as much about parenthood as growing from child to adult. And although Little White Lies’ Oliver Lyttelton claims that Linklater has “always been a predominantly male-focused director”, in both Boyhood and last year’s Before Midnight it is the mothers, not fathers, to whose plight Linklater demonstrates an insightful sensitivity.

Although 166 minutes in the cinema rarely feels this fast, the film could take some cutting, not to ease the lengthy run-time but to retain its verisimilitude. Mason driving away to college to the soundtrack of Family of the Year’s Hero, the addictive tune also featured in the trailer, would have made a neater albeit more clichéd ending. The final scenes, showing Mason’s arrival at college and a hasty drug-enhanced trip into the mountains, are the only part of the film which don’t quite ring true, though the rather abrupt ending suggests that Mason’s life is continuing and we’re just not able to watch it anymore.

Linklater’s latest is a low-key yet soaring celebration of living and growing, and a joyous reminder of the potential creativity of humans. It’s not flawless, but then again neither is life.

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Oxford's Newspaper since 1991