Like the fabled Jesuit, Richard Linklater  has taken the boy and given us the man. In so doing, he’s created a film that I love more than I can say. And there is hardly a better, or nobler thing a film can do than inspire love.
This beautiful, mysterious movie is a time-lapse study of Mason, growing up from around the age of five to 18, from primary school to his first day in college. It is an intimate epic: over 12 years, Linklater worked with the young actor Ellar Coltrane, shooting scenes every year with him and other cast members, who grow visibly and heart-stoppingly older around him. The director’s daughter, Lorelei Linklater, plays Mason’s older sister, Samantha; Patricia Arquette is superb as their divorced single mom, hard-working and aspirational, but worryingly condemned to hook up with drunks and give the kids abusive stepdads. Ethan Hawke – his lean, chiselled face softening as the years go by – plays the kids’ feckless and unreliable but charming father, who shows up every few weeks in his cool car. And Mason’s own face changes from its young, moony openness to a closed, grown-up handsomeness. It is the face he will learn to present to the world.
In some ways, the movie invites us to see Mason from an estranged-dad’s-eye-view, alert to sudden little changes and leaps in height. As an unestranged dad myself, I scrutinised Coltrane at the beginning of each scene, fascinated and weirdly anxious to see if and how he’d grown. But the point is that all parents are estranged, continually and suddenly waking up to how their children  are growing, progressively assuming the separateness and privacy of adulthood. Part of this film’s triumph is how it depicts the enigma of what Mason is thinking and feeling.
Boyhood  is so ambitous and passionate that I can’t imagine anyone cranking out another conventional “coming-of-age” picture. That genre now looks to be obsolete. Which is not to say this film is utterly novel: audiences must remember Michael Apted ‘s 7-Up TV documentary project. Michael Winterbottom did something similar with his long-gestating 2012 movie Everyday, interestingly another absent-father tale, this one of a family  left behind when the dad goes to prison. And Linklater got Hawke and Julie Delpy to grow up and grow old in hisBefore  movie series. There are other approximate examples: Robert Guédiguian, Steven Soderbergh and Mike Myers have used recycled “flashback” scenes of actors’ younger selves from other films. Perhaps the nearest comparison for Ellar Coltrane and Mason is Daniel Radcliffe and Harry Potter – a connection to which Linklater subtly alludes.
But none of these cases really do justice to the substance and completeness of this one thrilling film. The long-term commitment required is such that conventional assessments of “performance” are almost beside the point.
Continue reading in The Guardian