- - Thursday, July 17, 2014

‘Boyhood” is the film everyone will be talking about the rest of the summer. That’s because of how it was made.

It’s unprecedented in the world of film: Writer-director Richard Linklater follows a boy from first grade to college, and the characters age just as the actors do in real life. Mr. Linklater made “Boyhood” over the course of 12 years, shooting a few weeks each year to show the slow but steady transformation of a boy into a man.

That’s not the only reason people should be talking about “Boyhood.” The content is eloquent, which might be even more important than the enterprising concept.

“Boyhood” is one of the most realistic coming-of-age stories ever made. Most such tales take place over one important year, or even one important summer. But we grow up gradually and become the product of many experiences and relationships. The film’s innovative production allows “Boyhood” to get closer to the truth than most other films have — or even can.

As the film begins, the music sets the scene. First, Coldplay’s breakthrough 2000 hit “Yellow,” then a stream of other songs from the period. It feels at first as though the filmmaker is trying too hard to put his movie into a specific time and place, with one song after another in its first minutes. But once Mr. Linklater introduces his characters, he seems to become more confident of their ability to hold our attention without any context or gimmicks.

Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is a dreamy kid. His mother (Patricia Arquette) is scolding him because his teachers have told her, once again, that he spends too much time staring out the window during class. His elder sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter), seems to come from a different breed. The outgoing girl torments her brother with repeated renditions of Britney Spears’ “(Hit Me) Baby One More Time,” sending him over the edge just in time for their mother to appear and tell him to quit hitting his sister.

Dad (Ethan Hawke) is no longer in the family picture, though he soon reappears. He returns from a sojourn in Alaska and wants to be back in his children’s lives — and maybe their mom’s, too. But everyone’s lives become more complicated over the next decade, as Mason greets and says farewell to stepfathers and stepsiblings, and battles with his mom and dad while wondering whether they will ever get back together. He goes through the business of getting older and making decisions on his own.

“Boyhood,” as its title suggests, tackles a big subject, but doesn’t need to be nearly three hours long. We might have memories, for example, of putting mustard on our first ballpark frank, but it’s usually not something we linger over in detail. Also, some of the scene-setting involving politics feels heavy-handed.

Yet few inventions are executed successfully at first, and Mr. Linklater has done something important here. If “Boyhood” isn’t a masterpiece, it is a very good film and well worth watching.

What’s most surprising, perhaps, is how unexpected change can be. The father grows up almost as much as the son. When we first meet him, we’re not impressed and we’re not hopeful that he will be the best influence on his children. But he eventually puts away his childish things and meets responsibilities old and new.

Time passes in “Boyhood” like it passes in real life — without any obvious gaps or lines. Toward the end of the film, one character asks what the point of it all is. “I don’t know,” another character responds. “But the good news is neither does anyone else. We’re all winging it.”

Although the message is mixed, it leaves a good feeling. Growing up is hard, but we all manage to do it and become real people in the process.


TITLE: “Boyhood”

CREDITS: Written and directed by Richard Linklater

RATING: R, for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use

RUNNING TIME: 164 minutes


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