“The Ultimate Coming-of-Age Movie”

Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane
Directed by Richard Linklater

Everything you’ve heard since its premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival is true: “Boyhood” is a masterpiece.

Written and directed by Richard Linklater (whose wide-ranging list of credits range from experimental indies like “Tape” and “Waking Life” to studio crowd-pleasers like “School of Rock”), this daring, brilliant, beautiful coming-of-age story is unlike any movie you’ve ever seen, or will ever see again. That’s because Linklater took the unprecedented step of shooting the film little-by-little over the course of 12 years using the same actors – a process that’s never been done before in the history of cinema.

Among those actors: Patricia Arquette and longtime Linklater collaborator Ethan Hawke (the landmark “Before” trilogy), who play, respectively, Olivia and Mason Sr., divorced parents trying to raise their kids while putting their broken lives back together. But it’s Lorelei Linklater (Richard’s real-life daughter) and, in a breakthrough performance, Ellar Coltrane who makes the biggest impact on this bold and remarkable cinematic triumph. The effect of seeing them grow up before your very eyes – particularly Coltrane, who was only six-years-old when Linklater started filming back in 2002 – is a stunning and mind-blowing testament to the relentless passage of time.

With a running time of 2 hours and 45 minutes, “Boyhood” is both epic in its scope and intimate in its depiction of a broken family. Olivia is the heart of the movie, while Mason Sr. is its soul (and Arquette and Hawke both give superb performances). But the story is told through the eyes of Mason Jr. (Coltrane), who over the next 12 years will have to deal with a struggling mother who works numerous jobs to care for him, a drifting father who comes back into his life after many years away and an alcoholic stepfather. And as he passes from boyhood to manhood, he will have to endure puberty, his first beer, his first broken heart and figuring out what he wants to do with the rest of his life.

The fact that Coltrane never secured another major acting job between 2002 and 2013 (when filming wrapped) turned out to be a blessing in disguise for “Boyhood.” For if he had been in a big-budget Hollywood movie, people would have come to recognize him, and the effect of his changing physical appearance would not have had as much of a jarring emotional impact. Also a stroke of luck: as Coltrane gets older, he becomes a better actor, and his performance gets stronger as the movie progresses.

“Boyhood” is another in a long line of Linklater films that utilize the concept of time, but it also represents something of a time capsule in itself. While filming through the years, a number of cultural milestones are organically interwoven into the story, particularly the war in Iraq, the mayhem surrounding the latest “Harry Potter” novel and the election of President Obama.

It’s hard to believe that Linklater was able to keep this experimental film under the radar for 12 years, but what’s even more amazing is how fantastic it turned out. In addition to being a masterpiece and an instant American classic, it’s hard to imagine another movie that deserves to win the Oscar for Best Picture more than “Boyhood.”

-Scott Mantz