That expansive query kicked off one of the most daring experiments in film history: a 12-year odyssey to capture on the bigscreen the development of one young boy into manhood. Every year, the filmmaker and his cast would shoot for three or four days, and then Adair would splice together the footage over a three- or four-week period. That helped a project that might have seemed overwhelming become more manageable.
“The rhythm of the film came from having all these ordinary moments captured in the script,” Adair says. “I just tried to find the most natural rhythm, because the performances are so grounded in reality.”
The drama examines one Texas family through divorces, graduations, bowling outings and dinner-table confrontations — the flotsam and jetsam of ordinary life. Throughout the course of the picture’s nearly three-hour running time, the two child stars, Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater, literally grow up onscreen, while the actors playing their parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) slide into middle age.
“It was thrilling to go back and look at the early years on the project, and see the physical changes that had occurred with the actors,” Adair says. “It’s a striking and very unique experience to see somebody develop and change the way we see our cast change.”
One daring aspect of the picture is that it seamlessly glides along without having any signposts that inform viewers a year has passed.
“We were certain that we didn’t want to have a big delineation between the years,” Adair explains. “We wanted it to unfold, and allow the audience to catch up to the changes in time in a smooth and non-jarring way. Time washes by in the film like it does in reality, and we don’t always know it’s passing until it’s already happened.”
Adair has worked with Linklater for more than 20 years, editing some of the indie auteur’s most beloved works, such as “School of Rock” and “Bernie.” There’s a groundedness to his work that she finds appealing. That understated quality defined her favorite scene in the film — a talk Hawke has on the importance of contraception with his two children.
“They’re all just going through embarrassment and awkwardness, and I was able to grab the moments that make that scene come alive and feel natural,” she says.
The film has attracted raves from critics and audiences, and is already being pegged as a major awards contender. Adair says she has been approached by many viewers who have found personal resonance with the family’s onscreen journey.
“It just seems to strike a chord,” she notes. “Whether it’s the mom raising kids as a single parent or people being remind of growing up with divorced parents or alcoholic stepfathers, it seems to hit the nail on the head.”