As the title suggests, the film follows a boy’s childhood from elementary school to college. More broadly, it shows the evolution of a family. Single mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) is raising her children, Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) and Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) amidst poverty and numerous husbands, while their father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), is growing up with them.
Boyhood dances between a fictional narrative and a documentation of actual life. The film includes many relatable experiences, from the painfully awkward hairstyles of adolescence and sex talks to the serious issues of abuse and alcoholism. Linklater comically deals with all of these issues, some a little too insensitively.
Olivia is remarried twice after she splits from Mason Sr., and the husbands grow progressively worse. Coupled with unsupportive teachers and popularity-obsessed peers, Mason Jr. turns to photography as an outlet of expression and hopes this will provide him with the answers about life he is seeking.
When the project began in 2002, Linklater had an overall synopsis in mind, but each year before filming, the script was written. This provided a current frame of reference throughout the film and created a natural progression from childhood to adulthood.
Clocking in at just under 2 hours and 45 minutes, it may take audiences a while to latch onto the compelling stories that are slow to play out. The film mirrors many other coming-of-age stories to grace the silver screen.
The beginning feels disjointed from the rest of the film, but these foundational moments are critical for the development of each character. But as Mason Jr. enters high school, the plot blossoms into more abstract issues. Linklater takes more artistic liberties resulting in an incredibly real and beautiful account of discovering the purpose of life.