A journey through early life, Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ a statement on the quieter moments

The title “Boyhood” suggests something definitive, perhaps even a statement on the essential nature of growing up. Which is not at all what this movie is.

Made up of stray moments, occasional bits of melodrama, and a gentle sense of time drifting by, the film is much better represented by its working title: “12 Years.” Nothing grand about that, just a description of the awkward age of life. (Writer-director Richard Linklater chose “Boyhood” after “12 Years a Slave” came into the world.)

“12 Years” would’ve also been shorthand for the film’s making. It was shot, in the director’s native Texas, over a 12-year period — Linklater knew the shape of the film, but would tweak its script as time marched on, incorporating topical issues and reacting to his performers.

This means that unlike most movies, which remake the world and impose an order on it, “Boyhood” reacts to the world; as 21st-century history and its actors’ personalities evolve, the movie is changed by those things. This isn’t just an interesting experiment, but a philosophical position: Protagonist Mason (Ellar Coltrane), tracked from first grade to high-school graduation, is learning that life does not fit into the pleasing rise and fall of a three-act structure but is doled out in unpredictable fits and starts.

So what’s it about? (Other than about 164 minutes — the length is crucial, and almost unnoticed.) We meet Mason daydreaming in a back yard, his parents having recently separated; the broken marriage will linger as fact of life.

His journey through the school years is sometimes bumpy, sometimes mundane — Linklater doesn’t reject melodrama so much as he politely declines it, opting instead for little grace notes and revealing encounters.

Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are terrific as the parents, and Linklater’s daughter Lorelei is funny and distinctive as Mason’s older sister. Other folks come and go, like people do. Nothing alerts us to the fact that another year has passed, unless we notice changes in haircuts.

As we reach the final stages, there’s definitely a sense of rounding off the story, and a few appropriate nods toward lessons learned — the movie’s not as shapeless as it might seem.

Still, it’s quietly radical. Linklater’s films are almost always nudging us to watch in a different way, from the unusually-structured “Slacker” and the “Before Sunrise” trilogy to the anti-nostalgia of “Dazed and Confused.”

By all means, enjoy “Boyhood” for its evocation of childhood, but let’s also appreciate how Linklater calls for us to re-imagine how we treat movies and childhood: Less judgment, less organization, more daydreaming.

“Boyhood” (4 stars)

Director Richard Linklater shot this coming-of-age story over 12 years, during which time his actors aged accordingly. The result is a deliberately unassuming look at the small moments (and a few big ones) that make up the awkward years for a single Texas kid (Ellar Coltrane). Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke are terrific as the divorced parents, and the movie’s gentle flow means you almost don’t notice the 164-minute running time.

Rating: R, for language, subject matter

Showing: Harvard Exit

More in Life

Take a closer look: Winter gardens share gifts in subtle way

Go on a neighborhood walk this month to enjoy the seasonal beauty offered by a variety of gardens.

Great Plant Pick: Pinus contorta var. contorta, shore pine

What: Who is not impressed by the beauty and toughness of this… Continue reading

Red wine usually costs more, but you can still find bargains

Here are five good-quality reds that won’t drain your grocery budget.

Beer of the Week: Skull Splitter and Blood of My Enemies

Aesir Meadery of Everett and Whiskey Ridge Brewing of Arlington collaborated to make two braggots.

Jesse Sykes brings her evolving sounds to Cafe Zippy in Everett

She and Phil Wandscher make a return trip to a club that she values for its intimacy.

Compost: It’s what every gardener really wants for Christmas

A pile of decomposed and recycled organic matter is the gardener’s gift that keeps on giving.

Need a centerpiece? Plant paper-whites for December beauty

The white flowering plant brings the garden indoors in winter, even if the bulbs were never outside.

Beer, wine, spirits: Snohomish County booze calendar

Ugly Sweater Party and Canned Food Drive at Whitewall: Marysville’s Whitewall Brewing… Continue reading

Student winners to perform concertos with Mukilteo orchestra

This annual show is a partnership with the Snohomish County Music Teachers Association.

Most Read