Movie review

'Boyhood' seems like a simple movie, but it's stunning

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A friend emailed last week to ask if “Boyhood” had somehow come and gone. She had been advised not to miss it and it’s been six months since it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January and sent reviewers to the adjective bank to withdraw such superlatives as remarkable, captivating and entrancing.

The word I scribbled in my notebook after 164 minutes was wondrous.

“Boyhood” opens tonight at the Regent Square Theater and AMC-Loews where it will gently transport moviegoers back to childhood, their own or their children’s or both. It arrives at a time when we’re swimming in memories thanks to graduation parties, summer weddings and preparation for new school years or college.

'Boyhood' movie trailer

The life of a young man, Mason, from age 5 to age 18.

“Boyhood” is like the world’s simplest movie magic trick and yet one so risky that almost no one else would ever attempt it. Richard Linklater assembled a fictional family — mother, father, daughter and son — and filmed them once a year for 12 years.

As in real life, the adults physically don’t change much except for hairstyles or facial hair or clothes but the children grow up. We see the passage of time in their faces, bodies and emerging personalities, especially the boy.

When we first meet them, Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is 6 and regularly annoyed by his older sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter), who won’t stop dancing or singing “Oops! … I Did It Again” or tangling with him in the back seat of the car.

'The Boyhood'

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater.

Rating: R for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use.

Their mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), moves them within Texas to Houston so she can return to school and earn a better living. The children’s dad, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), is just back from Alaska and vows to spend more time with the kids.

“Boyhood” tracks both parents and various partners — disastrous or stabilizing — and the children for the next dozen years. It’s a movie about moments large and small, from bumpy blended families and the ache of a broken heart to the giddy delight of a “Harry Potter” book release party or father-son camping trip.

It’s all ordinary, extraordinary and relatable, whether you’ve had a family reshaped by divorce or never even stepped foot in Texas.

Mr. Linklater knows the importance of the little moments amid the big life shifts as when the dad takes the kids bowling but refuses to use the bumper guards, arguing, “You don’t want the bumpers. Life doesn’t give you bumpers.”

He’s not mean-spirited but high-spirited, a man who married and had children before he was ready. As already proven with “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset” and “Before Midnight,” Mr. Hawke does some of his best work when collaborating with Mr. Linklater, and Ms. Arquette gives a heartfelt performance as a woman who thinks she’s found the right mate but belatedly realizes otherwise.

“Boyhood” isn’t just a technical feat or triumph of patience in an impatient world; it’s like a garment assembled with small, fine stitches. It’s a luxurious look at a regular boy who turns into a preteen and then teen, and Ellar Coltrane is so wonderfully natural that you almost think you’re watching a documentary.

The medium and the method underscore the message in “Boyhood.” It’s not earth-shaking but remarkable, captivating, entrancing … and wondrous.


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