In Boyhood, newcomer Ellar Coltrane plays Mason, a boy growing up in Texas. When the film starts, he is 6 years old, and the shots reflect the magic and blur between imagination and reality during that period of childhood. He's dreamy and given to staring out of windows. It seemed evident Mason was based on Linklater?he later develops an interest in photography and like Linklater, he grew up with a struggling single mother in small town Texas. Towards the end of the film, Linklater gives Mason some of the usual philosophical pontificating he gives his characters in movies like Waking Life and Before Sunrise, but it is much more restrained and feels more accurate in the context of late adolescence.
Mason's divorced parents are played by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette. In some ways they steal the show. While the physical changes in Mason over more than two hours present a remarkably smooth depiction of growth, he is an ordinary kid and the things that happen to him have been the subject of a lot of films. Although the parenting challenges are equally ordinary, they are so shown onscreen that they become wholly fascinating. The conclusions that the parents arrive at by film's end are normal, if a little bleak, and yet the way they're presented somehow seems to have existential gravitas instead of feeling worn.
Richard Linklater's daughter Lorelei Linklater plays Mason's sister Samantha who is a gregarious and extraverted performer at the start, but becomes more reserved?as many girls do?as the years pass.
Aside from the mini-arcs of the adult's relationships, the drama does not build continuously from start to finish. There is not much plot here, but that's not to say nothing happens. Linklater has noted to interviewers that he tried to capture moments from every school year until Mason's graduation: car trips, birthday parties camping with dad, parental fights, struggles with stepparents, pledging allegiance to the flag, bullies, and jobs. There are no real transitions from year to year, so the film passes much the way life passes?a lot of us barely notice time passing, but we look in a mirror one day and realize we look different than we did before.
The film is a similar project to that of the British documentary series Up, a set of films that follows the lives of fourteen British children from 1964, revisiting them every seven years. The Up series was criticized because, although it was a documentary, it was edited to create causal connections that were suspected by the filmmakers early on. Although it is seamlessly edited, Boyhood doesn't feel manufactured at all ?it feels like Linklater transferred his memories directly onto the screen.
In spite of its length?a whopping 166 minutes?and in spite of a usually limited attention span for very long movies, I didn't feel the need to get up once in the theater. Even after it ended, I wanted the film to keep going. This is probably the best film of the year. Be sure not to miss it at Aquarius and the Guild, starting July 25th.