Director Richard Linklater filmed this extraordinary coming-of-age saga every October over 12 consecutive years, chronicling the life of 6-year-old Ellar Coltrane, until he reaches 18.
Given the fictional screen name of Mason (Coltrane), he is first seen in East Texas, playing with neighborhood kids and squabbling with his older sister, Samantha (Linklater's daughter Lorelei).
At the end of this segment, they move to Houston, which means a new home, elementary school and friends. Mason's dad (Ethan Hawke) and mom (Patricia Arquette) are divorced; Mason's always hoping that they'll get back together. But that's not to be. Lovers come and go in his parents' lives.
Problem is: whenever his Mom finds a new man, she marries him -- and one (Marco Perella) turns out to be an abusive alcoholic. By the time Mason turns 15, he has become less stiff on- amera, wryly humorous and far more self-assured. Going off to UT-Austin, he's matured before our eyes.
Linklater epitomizes the independent American filmmaker. From "Dazed and Confused" and "School of Rock" to his Ethan Hawke/Julie Delpy trilogy ("Before Sunrise," "After Sunset," "Before Midnight"), he continues to choose off-beat topics.
Shooting in 35 mm and presenting the story in a linear structure, rather than using flashbacks, Linklater dilutes the melodrama but emphasizes the essential veracity.
In this kind of episodic experiment, Linklater joins Michael Apted, who has documented 14 British youngsters, revisiting them every seven years for his "Up" series. What's unusual is Linklater's substantial ownership. Traditionally, the filmmaker gets points (aka, a percentage of the profits) but sacrifices his copyright once a financier, like IFC Films, becomes the distributor. However, in this case, Linklater chose to relinquish his usual low seven-figure, up-front fee in order to preserve a stake.
He's not unique, however. George Lucas became a billionaire by retaining "Star Wars" merchandising, licensing and sequel rights, while Mel Gibson's self-financed "The Passion of the Christ" reaped hundreds of millions of dollars.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Boyhood," nearly three hours in length, is a naturalistic 9, a bittersweet alternative to studio productions.