Boyhood ★★★★½

To call this a film about a boy does it a great disservice. It’s also about the lives of people integral to the development and upbringing of one boy in particular, but even that doesn’t quite cut it as a summary. It’s a film about life.

This is Linklater’s masterpiece, I have no doubt. In his Before series, we saw his mastery of natural characterization, honestly unadorned dialogue and beautiful - even at times poetic - restraint in controlling tone, mood and image. There, he also demonstrated that films can span great expanses of time without feeling heavy-handed or pointed - that growth and formation of character goes hand in hand with the passing of time. Boyhood does all of these things too, surely, but somehow seems all the more effortless in its execution. Its characters don’t feel like actors’ roles, nor do the words they say feel like they were ever put onto a page. It’s easy to lose yourself in the life of Mason and forget that what you’re watching is perhaps one of the bravest things ever to happen in the history of film, that it took twelve years to capture and relied so heavily on time itself to become what it is. Because it’s all so grounded and earnest, you need to step back from it to even see how ambitious it all is.

It never feels overly steering, and its message is what you take from it, not what it would explicitly suggest you leave with. It doesn’t even feel like a complete story, for Boyhood doesn’t document the end, nor beginning, of Mason’s life. It ends as it begins, with a moment in a series of moments. And there’s something inherently special about what that means for a film made in 2014, this one notion that’s so unlike anything that you’ll ever see in a theatre.

Though poetic (in the same way that life often can be), Boyhood doesn’t strike me as poetry, and that’s something I have no doubt that some viewers will be discouraged by, especially those who are hooked by the premise of some epic twelve-year saga and expecting profound takeaways. Linklater’s film is poignant and emotionally profound, but it’s all very natural and familiar.

It’s not poetry. It’s prose.