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Boyhood, film review: Emotional gains from growing pains in rich coming-of-age film

(15) Dir. Richard Linklater; Starring Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater, 166mins

Filmed intermittently but with the same actors over a period of 12 years, Boyhood is a coming-of-age film not quite like any other. It has the same relaxed, life- as-it-happens naturalism as many of Richard Linklater's other films – Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise and its sequels – but this one is also novelistic in its richness and scope, and really does seem effortlessly to capture life as it is happening.

The focus is on one family in Texas: divorced parents Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and Mason (Ethan Hawke) and their children Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and Mason Jr (Ellar Coltrane).

Olivia and Mason remarry three times between them, sometimes disastrously, so that Mason Jr, who begins as a daydreamy five-year-old and grows into just the kind of arty, philosophical, mildly disaffected 18-year-old who wandered through Linklater's Gen-X-defining Slacker, has a succession of father figures instructing him on how to shape up. If you wanted to boil it down, you might say it's about how growing up might mean coming to the realisation that adults don't have all the answers, either.

But Boyhood doesn't have the sort of story that you want to boil down. You don't often get to experience time being so condensed and yet free-flowing as it is in this one, and it is a pleasure just to watch the characters develop and the actors get older.

To see their electronic gadgets become more advanced, and the way the surrounding mood of the country improves when Bush gives way to Obama, and how Mason Jr graduates from lingerie catalogues to internet porn, or loses interest in Harry Potter but still likes Star Wars. Boyhood contains a whole young lifetime's worth of joy and disappointment and things in between, and in just the right proportions.