I could tell you Boyhood chronicles the adolescence of a boy growing up in a middle-class family in Texas, and I would be underselling it. I could say it was filmed a few weeks out of the year over the course of 12 years with the same principal cast, and you might be impressed. I could make all sorts of DVD cover-worthy claims, like, “the most ambitious narrative film ever made,” or, “quite possibly the best movie I’ve ever seen,” and I wouldn’t be exaggerating. But no amount of praise I could bestow on Richard Linklater’s latest masterpiece can truly express what it’s like to watch it. Boyhood is so much more than a film. It’s a transcendent experience.
It would be easy to pigeonhole the movie as a coming-of-age drama, but that would be a disservice to the film’s ambition. This isn’t Stand By Me or Juno. It’s a portrait of American life on a scale we’ve never seen before. We watch Mason Jr. literally transform before our eyes from cute, innocent boy, to the angsty, gangly teenager, to an attractive college-bound young man with aspirations of artistic grandeur. But despite the title, the movie isn’t really about watching a childhood progress, or at least not put so simply. It’s about the passage of time, and the accumulation of experiences and decisions that shape our lives.
The way this is achieved is perhaps the greatest strength of the film, and that is its unprecedented approach to storytelling. For the first time in film history, we aren’t just watching people pretend to mature and evolve. It happens before our eyes. Rather than actors portraying fictional characters, it feels like we’re watching the story of a real family. It’s a testament to the writing and casting as much as the innovative and anti-Hollywood method of filmmaking just how powerful the narrative becomes.
This has never been done before, and will probably never be done again. Boyhood represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity from one of America’s unsung artistic heroes. If he wasn’t already, Richard Linklater certainly belongs in the conversation of greatest American directors, living or dead. He’s a true visionary, and Boyhood is the culmination of his immense talent.
Whether you’re still going through growing pains, sending your first-born child to college, or shopping for burial plots, there are universal themes running through this film that will appeal to you. By the time the credits rolled, the old adage “time flies by” came to mind. Much like life itself, the movie was over before I was ready for it to be. But at the end of the day, what matters most is not how many steps it took to get you where you are, but the ability to look back and see how far you’ve come.