Coming of age: Richard Linklater’s Boyhood

With Boyhood, what might have seemed a risky experiment for Richard Linklater turns out to be one of the talented filmmaker’s richest, most remarkable films – an accomplishment completely independent of high concept or special effects.

Made over a 12-year period (2002-’13), the film introduces Ellar Coltrane as Mason, a six-year-old boy, and follows him through the years until he reaches the age of 18. For Mason, there are joyous moments, painful moments, moments of discovery and learning, and many moments in-between. Linklater brings an almost voyeuristic quality to the proceedings, although an unobtrusive and non-judgmental one.

Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette play Mason’s divorced parents, and the filmmaker’s daughter Lorelei Linklater plays his older sister Samantha. Although the film focuses primarily on Mason’s formative years – as spelled out by the title – his parents and sister develop, grow and, indeed, mature as well. As Mason becomes more aware of his surroundings and more self-aware – so too do the other major characters. Growing up is, after all, on ongoing process.

Hawke brings an impish, slightly guiltriddled charm to Dad, a bit immature and irresponsible but clearly loving his children.

Arquette brings a sometimes-discordant edge (and some particularly odd clothing choices) to her role as a single mother who marries her professor (Marco Perella), a closet alcoholic and control freak (Mom’s later marriage fares little better). Lorelei Linklater more than holds her own as big sister.

Despite the passage of years, sometimes conveyed in a languid fashion that might have benefited from some minor trims, there’s a seamless quality to the look of the film, with Lee Daniel and Shane F. Kelly sharing credit for the cinematography. It’s also fascinating to note how the trappings and “props” of the last decade have been supplanted by those commonly used today. Much has happened in the last dozen years, sometimes so subtly we haven’t really noticed.

Although Linklater and most of the other actors would work on other projects during Boyhood’s 12-year period, the story’s momentum is not compromised and remains even in tone, likely because Linklater doesn’t force any issues or incorporate unnecessary melodrama. Boyhood just happens, like real life.

Boyhood is scheduled to open Friday in Greensboro and Winston-Salem.