Richard Linklater is one of the great filmmakers of his generation, and Boyhood might just be his greatest achievement.
The film was shot over a period of twelve years with the same actors playing the same roles. The "boy" of the title is Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, who is seven when we first meet him and his family, living in
. Houston, Texas
Linklater and the cast then shot a small number of scenes every year, building on the story, watching the lives of the characters change, charting the progress of the children in the family.
Lorelei Linklater, the director's daughter, plays Samantha, Mason's sister, and for the first part of the film her story is equally as prominent as the boy's.
As the years go by the characters grow and change. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke play the kids' estranged parents, and as the film goes on we see them get heavier, gain wrinkles, age before our eyes.
The kids' change is the most obvious, of course. Samantha starts off as a chubby, cheeky little girl, and we see her lose her puppy fat, get braces, and become a young woman. Mason slowly grows up too, he loses the soft features of a little boy, his voice breaks and he grows facial hair. And because of the natural passage of time, this is all without makeup or special effects.
There is little conventional plot in the movie, beyond the normal changes and developments of the people's lives. There is a lot of talking, Linklater loves to have his characters just shoot the breeze, talk about life and love and how to live.
What is noticeable is that the parents look back when they talk, and the kids look forward. The parents are nostalgic about their past, the kids excited and anxious about their future.
In the film the passage of time is marked by the changing appearances of the characters, but also by real events happening at the time of filming. We see the
invasion, the first Harry Potter movie, the rise of Lady Gaga, Obama's first
election win. Iraq
The music too charts our move through the noughties, from Coldplay to Flaming Lips and on to Arcade Fire and the Black Keys.
The film is so replete with ideas and emotions, is so full of layers and themes, that it is probably worth seeing a second and a third time.
Boyhood is an extraordinary, innovative, compelling, at times jaw dropping piece of cinema. A film like no other, and one that will probably never be emulated, in its scope and its examination of youth and growing up.