This is a movie that has literally been filming for 12 years. Writer/director Richard Linklater, previously responsible for "Dazed and Confused" and "School of Rock," would gather his actors once a year and film for a few days, with the ultimate goal of chronicling how a young boy grows up. But this isn't some stodgy documentary; this is a fictionalized account of adolescence that is full of very dramatic moments.
But is this something that impenetrably artsy? Or something that is worth leaving the multiplex for?
1. It's Unlike Anything You've Ever Seen Before
You have to know this going in. It's not like a traditional movie, as you know it. The movie is a series of vignettes, following Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he grows up from first grade to 12th grade. Those are what we call the formative years. And while this makes it seem like it's some kind of daunting, sprawling form of cinematic homework, it's not -- in fact, you'll kind of wish Linklater had kept following this kid for the next 12 years, just so you could watch it all unfold.
2. Ellar Coltrane Is a Revelation
The young actor who Linklater chose, who apparently had very trusting parents, is absolutely phenomenal. Linklater has obviously known the actor for a long time, even installing him in a small role in Linklater's underrated "Fast Food Nation," and there's easiness in his performance that never feels forced or showy. He's able to tackle some of the more gummy aspects of Linklater's writing, his insistence on long, metaphysical monologues and the fact that every sequence is deliberately under-played, like a seasoned pro, even though most of the people who are watching "Boyhood" will have never seen him before. That freshness goes a long way in selling the believability of "Boyhood"; without the boy, the movie would be nothing.
3. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette Are Fearless
Just as amazing as Coltrane's performance, though, are the pair of performances turned in by the actors who play his parents: Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. These are completely selfless roles, glamour-free and totally exposed, and the two actors equip themselves gamely. These are two actors who are mercifully unencumbered by vanity normally, but to have 12 years of your life covered unscrupulously, well, it's hard to think of many actors that would agree to that. And, truth be told, some of the years are harder on the actors than others, but they still soldier on. They're also totally amazing. Hawke has been one of Linklater's closest collaborators, and this might be their greatest accomplishment together.
4. It's Remarkably Free of 'Big Moments'
One of the things that is really incredibly about "Boyhood" is how, since the movie moves by at such a clip, Linklater resists the urge to revel in the "big moments" of growing up. You don't see the kid's first sexual encounter, or his prom, but instead, it's made up of the small moments -- the moments that really matter in life. Linklater is a filmmaker who is obsessed with time, both in how it works and how we process it, and he seems to be eschewing the expected, in all sorts of glorious ways. Friends change, relationships are fortified or fall away, and all of this happens with the gradual passing of time. It's beautiful and profound and totally true.
5. You'll Cry
Even if the movie is free of those giant moments, chances are you'll still well up with tears, either because of the sensitivity of the performances and storyline, or because it will hit on something in your own life. This movie is insanely relatable, no matter your geographic location (once again, this is a wonderfully Texan story from Linklater) or gender. It just gets into your blood.
6. The Soundtrack Is Incredible
The movie takes place over 12 years, and Linklater filled the soundtrack with almost every iconic song from those 12 years. What this does is, in fact, orient you instantly to what time that particular section of the movie is set. (Sadly, some of these songs, like Outkast's "Hey Ya!" and Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," didn't make it into the final cut of the movie, but was part of the version that we saw right after Sundance.) From the opening moments of the film, accompanied by Coldplay's "Yellow," you are plugged in, ready to go on this epic, utterly relatable journey.
7. For Once, the Running Time Is Justified
"Boyhood" runs a whopping 166 minutes. That's one minute longer than "Transformers: Age of Extinction." Except you get to watch someone age 12 years, instead of see China destroyed by a bunch of robotic dinosaurs. This is one case where the movie's super-long running time is totally justified... although "Boyhood" could have used some more robotic dinosaurs.
8. It Might Take a Second Viewing to Sink In
The first time you watch "Boyhood" is a pretty overwhelming experience. And if you feel some distance from the material after the first screening but are still enchanted enough to go back again, you won't be sorry. There are a number of people who have reached out and said that upon their second viewing, the true profundity of the piece sunk in and they felt much closer to it. This made me very happy. But it also made me want to issue the plea to those of you who maybe don't fully connect on the first viewing: trust it, and try again. It's certainly worthy of your time.
9. Richard Linklater Is a Certifiable Auteur
If last year's "Before Midnight" wasn't enough to double-underline Richard Linklater as a certifiable American auteur, then "Boyhood" will certainly do just that. What other filmmaker would even come up with this concept? Much less follow through to the degree Linklater has done? And looking back on the breadth of what he's accomplished in his career: everything from the '70s stoner comedy "Dazed and Confused" to the animated sci-fi oddity "A Scanner Darkly" (and everything in between); it's just staggering.
10. It's Not Gimmicky
Maybe the biggest fear people have going into "Boyhood" is that, based on the conceit, they think that it's just gimmicky and flat. It is neither. So go watch the movie.
Photo courtesy IFC