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Aging In Film: When Your Character Looks Like Country-Fried Gollum You've Gone Too Far

By Joanna Robinson | Miscellaneous | June 22, 2011 | Comments ()


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One of my favorite directors, Richard Linklater, is working on a fascinating project called Boyhood. Long preoccupied by unusual storytelling (the rotoscoping of Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, the delicately interlaced twin narratives of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset), Linklater is taking an intriguing look at the passage of time and how it's captured in film. /Film reports:

Linklater began shooting Boyhood (formerly called Growing Up) back in 2002, following one young actor (Ellar Salmon) as he ages naturally from first grade to the start of college. Linklater recently reported that he has three more years of shooting left to go, which, yup, sounds about right -- a six-year-old in 2002 would be eighteen in 2014. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette also star Salmon's parents. Boyhood tells the story of a divorced couple (Hawke and Arquette) as they raise their child (Salmon). Linklater's been shooting the project little by little, filming Salmon for short periods each summer, and in an interview with The Playlist, Linklater stated that he has "three years left on it."

I am excessively excited by this project for several reasons. Firstly, Linklater has an impressive de-douchefying effect on Ethan Hawke. Secondly, I am fascinated by the problem of how to convincingly show the passage of time on film. There are, currently, two (and a half) options. The first, of course, is the classic "aging makeup" which is slowly being replaced with a makeup/CGI combo. While some aging makeup can be convincing it is, more often than not, a distraction. (Chronicled rather hilariously in this AV Club video.) The makeup/CGI age-fest that was The Curious Case of Benjamin Button detracted from the fine performances of Pitt, Blanchett and Swinton. (Well, no, not Swinton, nothing can detract from that.)

The other option, one that works for both the passage of time in a single movie and over a series, is to cast two actors to play the same role. When this works, it really works. When it doesn't you get the charismatic Hal Holbrooks playing an older version of the deadly dull Robert Pattinson (Water For Elephants) and the entire casting disaster that was Now And Then. (Christina Ricci grows up to be Rosie O'Donnell? I think not.) Pajiba reader penelope emailed me awhile back with her favorite pairings. Here's a blended list of hers and mine. Holler if we missed one.

Flora Guiet/Audrey Tautou as Amélie Poulain--Amélie: It's not just the haircut. I love that little girl.
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Elle Fanning/Cate Blanchett as Daisy--The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: See. . .this is what happens when you don't mess about with CGI.
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Robert De Niro/Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone--The Godfather Series: The only Oscar-winning pair on the list. Powerhouse performances.
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Geena Davis/Lynn Cartwright as Dottie Hinson--A League of Their Own: This one is a personal favorite. They dubbed in Davis's voice for Cartwright's scenes, but the resemblance is uncanny.
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Mary Stuart Masterson/Jessica Tandy as Idgie "Ninny" Threadgoode--Fried Green Tomatoes: Just disgustingly delightful, these two.
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River Phoenix/Harrison Ford as Henry Jones Jr.--The Indiana Jones Series: Remember how River Phoenix was great in that last Indiana Jones film they ever made? The third one? Yeah he was great in that.
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Christa B. Allen/Jennifer Garner as Jenna Rink--13 Going On 30: They (Hollywood?!) loved Allen so much they brought her back to play the younger version of Garner in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.
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Benjamin Walker/Liam Neeson as Alfred Kinsey--Kinsey: This is penelope's favorite. Can't say I blame her. That nose!
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Ewan McGregor/Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi--The Star Wars Abominations: Say what you will about the prequels (and you can say them loudly and often), McGregor was a great match for Guinness.
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Caitlin Blackwood/Karen Gillan as Amelia Pond--"Doctor Who": This is cheating, of course, because it's television, but I love that they used Gillan's young cousin. Brilliant.
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