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Boyhood review: Richard Linklater's masterpiece 12 years in the making

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Director: Richard Linklater; Screenwriter: Richard Linklater; Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater; Running time: 166 mins; Certificate: 15

12 years in the making, Richard Linklater's Boyhood is the coming-of-age movie to end all coming-of-age movies. Shooting with the same core actors - Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and Lorelei Linklater - for a few days every year since 2002, writer-director Linklater has crafted a wonderful film that captures the rollercoaster ride that comes with growing up.

The Up documentary series and Michael Winterbottom's Everyday (filmed over a five-year stretch) have tackled the passing of time on screen, but Boyhood is something of a different proposition. It's a film that manages to be both breathtakingly epic and poignantly intimate, dipping into the life of Mason (Coltrane) from ages five to 18.

Linklater never signposts the passing years with filmmaking flourishes, instead immersing the viewer in place and time with brilliant soundtrack cues (everyone from Coldplay to Lady Gaga and Arcade Fire feature) and cultural touchstones like Star Wars and queuing to buy the latest Harry Potter book. When we see Mason playing on retro games consoles or working at school on an old-style Mac we're immediately snapped back to yesterday, the comforting buzz of nostalgia only heightened by the warm Texas sunshine that plays host to most of this story.

Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater in Richard Linklater's Boyhood
Patricia Arquette in Richard Linklater's Boyhood

Boyhood isn't all sentimentality and emotional manipulation, though. Mason and his family experience tough times. His mother Olivia and father Mason Sr, played brilliantly by Arquette and Hawke, started a family when they were young but they're estranged when we meet them. It's left to Olivia to raise Mason and Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), while Mason Sr arrives to be the fun dad when it suits him. The pair have an amicable relationship, but there's little chance of them rekindling the fire that brought them together years earlier.

Mason's rite of passage lies at the heart of Boyhood, but it's also fascinating to watch Arquette and Hawke evolving their characters. For film fans the enduring image of Arquette is as True Romance's Alabama Whitman. Here she invests Olivia with steely determination and unbreakable spirit - life deals her a bad hand but as she battles past two drunk ex-husbands, her love for her kids is never in question.

Ellar Coltrane and Ethan Hawke in Richard Linklater's Boyhood

Mason Sr begins the film as a typical Linklater/Hawke character - he's an idealist, a free spirit and someone with an inquisitive and deeply philosophical mind, something that eventually transfers to his son. His gradual transformation into Ned Flanders (complete with polo necks, moustache and religious wife) is one of the movie's more dramatic gearshifts, but a highlight nonetheless.

It's Coltrane, though, who really makes the whole thing work so well. He's a natural on screen (he also had a role in Fast Food Nation), and what's great is seeing Mason grow up into a Richard Linklater character. In his teens he becomes the kind of thoughtful slacker we've come to know and love from Linklater's movies - the casting of Hawke as his dad was a masterstroke.

There's a universal appeal here that'll resonate whether you're a son, daughter, father, mother or sibling. Simply put, Boyhood is a masterpiece.

Boyhood is comfortably one of the best movies of 2014, and in an ideal world would sweep the Oscars next year (you suspect Linklater isn't bothered by such things, though). It's utterly unique and unlike anything else you've seen - like a deeply personal home video compilation writ large on the big screen. There's a universal appeal here that'll resonate whether you're a son, daughter, father, mother or sibling. Simply put, Boyhood is a masterpiece.

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