Filmed over a twelve year period, director Richard Linklater's truly unique film follows the life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), as he quite literally grows up on screen. We join Mason aged six, watch as he grapples with adolescence, and concludes as he graduates from high school and heads to college, aged 18. Surrounding Mason are his divorced parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) and older sister (Lorei Linklater) who also grow and evolve around him. A masterpiece.
In 2002, Texan director Richard Linklater began filming a small low-budget drama about family life, with seven-year-old Ellar Coltrane at its centre.
One year later, he caught up with the now-eight-year film Coltrane, and his on-screen family (Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and Lorelei Linklater). And so it continued, filming every summer, for twelve years.
This is Boyhood, a unique and quite wonderful cinematic experiment which somehow manages to capture the intangible essence of life, in all its sound and fury, perhaps better than any film in recent memory.
It's hard to overstate how effective this recurring anthology conceit is. Gradually, magically, almost imperceptibly, we watch this little boy grow up right there on the screen - from dewy-eyed innocence to greasy-haired puberty. We marvel with a curious spectatorly pride as he emerges out the other side a man.
Cultural milestones help us pinpoint the year - Britney Spears on the radio; Iraq on the news; a new Harry Potter in the bookstands. But this is too personal a story to be some sort of I Love The Noughties nostalgia-fest.
You'd be hard pushed to describe a plot. Mason's mother goes through a couple of destructive marriages; Mason himself embarks on a formative romance.
Yet these are not really the narrative centrepieces. Life, such as it is, lobs various obstacles at Mason and his family, and we bear witness to a fascinatingly real and painfully recognisable family portrait.
Linklater has previous form here. Dazed & Confused, Slacker, and School of Rock chronicled the teenage experience with keen eye. And his Before Sunrise trilogy established the concept of a loose-'n-easy narrative, in which characters chat without direction (or "profound bitching", as Mason puts it).
It's his most sweepingly comprehensive effort to date. It deals in boyhood, yes, but also fatherhood, parenthood, sisterhood, friendship, and beyond. It's messy and unpredictable. It's at once joyous and tragic. It just might be a masterpiece.
"What's the point?" Mason asks his Dad towards the end of the film, and Dad offers as profound a piece of advice as there ever was. "I sure as s**t don't know," Dad confesses. "We're all just winging it." That's life in a nutshell - and Boyhood encapsulates it with a rare beauty.