Director Richard Linklater’s fascination with the passage of time, on- and off-screen, has long been evident. Twice—in 2004’s Before Sunset and 2013’s Before Midnight—he revisited the star-crossed lovers of his best film, 1995’s Before Sunrise, cataloguing, at nine-year intervals, the evolving stages of Jesse and Celine’s relationship and the ways circumstances pulled them together and apart.
With Boyhood, Linklater has conducted a related experiment, but he has done it across the span of a single film. He began shooting the picture in the summer of 2002 in his hometown of Austin, Texas, and he gathered his cast back together for a few weeks every year until completing the project in 2013. Ellar Coltrane plays Mason, the titular “boy” whom we watch grow from ages six to 18; Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke play his divorced parents; and the director’s own daughter, Lorelei Linklater, plays Mason’s older sister. As with the Before Sunrise sequels, the principal actors played an active role in writing the script, which unfolded, like the filming itself, over the course of 12 years.
The result is a fascinating exercise in fictive filmmaking, one that cannot help but be compared to the seminal Seven Up! documentaries directed by Paul Almond and Michael Apted. Indeed, like a great many of Linklater’s films, dating back to his 1991 debut, Slacker, there is a powerfully documentary-like feel to Boyhood, an immersion in ordinariness that is itself extraordinary. Many moments in the film conjure with tactile immediacy the experiences both of childhood and of parenthood.