The story goes as thus. We first meet Mason as a six year old kid, overhearing his mother, played by Patricia Arquette, argue with her boyfriend about how she has no time because of her children. We also meet Mason's older sister, Samantha, who is played by Linklater's own daughter, Lorelei. As the story progresses, we meet Mason, Sr., a hapless but quite charming deadbeat dad, who may grow almost as much as his son does in the twelve years. Hawke, who seems to have been in every damn Linklater film ever made (actually he's been in eight), is magnificent here, but he is just one highlight out of many in this two-and-a-half hour epic coming-of-age tale. Watching Ellar Coltrane grow up on screen is pure fascination. We the audience, act as voyeurs, secretly watching these private moments, as they progress. This obvious voyeurism is made even more palpable than in other films, as we are actually watching someone grow up in front of us. Yes, the story may be fiction, but because of the way Linklater has created this work, the way the auteur has styled his opus, it seems all the more real. An experimental reality-esque film, with a quiet charm, reminiscent of the director's breakthrough second film, Slacker, as well as with obvious nods to the past of filmmakers such as Godard and Ackerman and Bresson.
The storyline stays simple and fluid the whole way through. Linklater never jars us with sudden breaks in the action to show us that Mason is now two years older or what have you. We are not led through this tale by a chain, like many filmmakers might do, but rather the story itself leads us through itself. One scene fades out and a new one takes its place. Linklater has a unique talent of never allowing his camera to become too obtrusive, while at the same time, always putting the viewer in the middle of whatever is happening up on the screen. Simple and fluid, Linklater's unobtrusive voyeuristic style, just ads to to the strange and unusual subject and/or mode of the film. We are never so much aware that the boy is growing up, so much as we find ourselves part of Mason's life. Perhaps cousins or family friends, growing up with Mason, and for that matter, to a lesser extent, with Samantha as well. Much like the director's Before series, Boyhood has a loose but powerful structure. With a script written by Linklater, but with constant collaboration from all four principals, there were times when the final script would not be finished until a few hours, maybe even minutes before filming began. This, almost improv-esque, style of moviemaking works perfectly in this all-too strange motion picture experience. Just like life, there really is no true script. Life sometimes imitates art, but so rarely does art imitate life as much as it does in this subtle yet cleverly masterful film.
Linklater has admitted that this was the most difficult time he ever had making a movie, and one can surely believe such a statement. Never able to put any of his child actors under contract for such a long period of time, Linklater had to hope that things would progress each time he came to town to film another few days or weeks of footage. Linklater's daughter, tired of this process, actually asked to be killed off at one point during the twelve years. But yet, Linklater was able to get his film made. Squeezing in a day of shooting here and a day of shooting there (Linklater has stated that his buddy Ethan Hawke was the most difficult to schedule, since the writer-actor seems to be working on some project 365 days a year), the auteur was able to create a brilliantly beautiful work of art. A very unique film experience, in the manner of Truffaut's Antoine Doinel series or Michael Apted's Up series, but brought to a whole other level of experimental filmmaking - a true one-of-a-kind entity, indeed. Now, after twelve years of waiting, Linklater's long-awaited magnum opus, meta-filmmaking project is finally here, and not only does it not disappoint, it goes far beyond anything for which we could have ever hoped. Best film of the year so far? Why yes, yes indeed. Again, have I mentioned that Richard Linklater is a genius? Yup.