Richard Linklater has done a lot of interesting stuff over the course of his career as a director, but probably the best of what he’s produced so far comes in the form of his Before trilogy—three movies starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy that take place over the course of 18 years. The Before movies are exceptional for two reasons. First of all, they’re famously about little more than people walking together and talking, yet they’re somehow able to not only keep that formula from getting boring, they’re also able to make it downright engaging for the length of three feature-length films. Secondly, because they were able to get the filmmaker and the stars back together for two sequels that each took place nine years apart, they were also able to look at a relationship from a unique perspective as it developed and as the couple naturally aged. We got to see Hawke and Delpy’s faces change and their perspectives change, without the use of phony aging makeup and showy acting meant to project aging, and with the added benefit of the creative forces actually growing in wisdom and skill in between each movie.
Linklater’s new film, Boyhood, is essentially the Before concept on steroids. Everything that was accomplished there is taken a step further and made a step more interesting because of increased ambition. This time around, instead of detailing a relationship as it grows and changes over the course of 18 years, checking in on it a mere three times, Linklater is detailing the entire childhood of a boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane), from age 5 to age 18, and he’s checking in on his development constantly. To be clear about that, this movie was shot over the course of 12 years, with the actors and the crew getting together every year to shoot a handful of new scenes—which means that you gradually watch all of the actors age 12 years, for real, over the course of the film, including watching the star morph from being a bright-eyed 5-year-old in the opening scene to being a scruffy-faced college freshman in the last. It’s a gimmick that would be worth checking out even if the movie wasn’t really any good, but that’s especially worth checking out because the film is so good that it just may be the new best thing Linklater has ever made.