Boyhood

From Manohla Dargis,  New York Times.

boyhood

The first shot in Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s tender, profound film, is of a cloudy sky. The second is of a boy staring up at that sky, one arm bent under his head, the other flung out straight on the ground. He’s a pretty child with calm eyes, a snub nose and a full mouth. It’s a face that you get to know and love because, even as this child is watching the world, you’re watching him grow. From scene to scene, you see the curve of his jaw change, notice his thickening brows and witness his slender arms opening to embrace the world and its clear and darkening skies.

Filmed over 12 consecutive years, “Boyhood” centers on Mason, 6 when the story opens and 18 when it ends. In between, he goes to school; argues with his sister, Samantha and watches his mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), struggle with work and men while paying the bills, moving from home to home and earning several degrees. Every so often, her ex-husband, roars into the children’s lives, initially in a 1968 GTO. It isn’t a dad car (although it does belong to one: Mr. Linklater).  These are people you know, maybe people like you.

The realism is so brilliantly realized that it would be easy to overlook. In “Boyhood,” Mr. Linklater’s inspired idea of showing the very thing that most movies either ignore or awkwardly elide — the passage of time — is its impressive, headline-making conceit. Starting in 2002, he gathered his four lead actors each year for a three- to four-day shoot, working on the script as they went along.

The structure is crucial. Mr. Linklater’s films are sometimes mischaracterized as having no plot, perhaps because they may seem so, when compared with aggressively incident-jammed mainstream movies. One of the fascinating things about “Boyhood” is that a lot happens — there are parties and fights, laughter and tears — but all these events take place in a distinctly quotidian register and without the usual filmmaking prodding and cues.

Instead, the movie ebbs and flows from year to year, interspersed with temporal signposts like a Britney Spears song or a Nintendo Wii. For a filmmaker known for the loquaciousness of his characters, Mr. Linklater has an almost un-American rejection of overexplanation. The film’s visual style is precise, unassuming to the point of seeming invisibility and in the service of the characters, with compositions that remain unfussy and uncluttered, even when the rooms are busy. When Mr. Linklater films a landscape, your eye locks not on the camerawork but on the beauty of these spaces and the people in them — the enveloping greenness of the neighborhood in which Mason first rides a bike, for instance, and the tranquillity of the watering hole that, years later, he swims in with his dad. Mr. Linklater is especially fond of showing two people walking and talking, and you learn as much about the characters’ relationships from how they inhabit space — his two-shots speak volumes — as from what they say. He’s a poet-geometrician of intimacy.

Radical in its conceit, familiar in its everyday details, “Boyhood” exists at the juncture of classical cinema and the modern art film without being slavishly indebted to either tradition. It’s a model of cinematic realism, and its pleasures are obvious yet mysterious. Even after seeing the film three times, I haven’t fully figured out why it has maintained such a hold on me, and why I’m eager to see it again. There are many reasons to love movies, from the stories they tell, to the beautiful characters who live and die for us. And yet the story in “Boyhood” is blissfully simple: A child grows up. This, along with the modesty of its physical production — its humble rooms, quiet moments, ordinary lives — can obscure Mr. Linklater’s ambitions and the greatness of his achievement.

It’s no surprise that watching actors age on camera without latex and digital effects makes for mesmerizing viewing. And at first it may be hard to notice much more than the creases etching Mr. Hawke’s face, the sexy swells of Ms. Arquette’s belly and Mr. Coltrane’s growth spurts. You may see your own face in those faces, your children’s, too. This kind of identification is familiar, as is the idea that movies preserve time. André Bazin wrote that art emerged from our desire to counter the passage of time and the inevitable decay it brings. But in “Boyhood,” Mr. Linklater’s masterpiece, he both captures moments in time and relinquishes them as he moves from year to year. He isn’t fighting time but embracing it in all its glorious and agonizingly fleeting beauty.