At one point Richard Linklater was planning to call Boyhood, his decade-long film project, simply "Twelve Years," but the release of Twelve Years a Slave put the kibosh on that idea. He might just as well have called it "Parenthood" ... but Steve Martin had long since grabbed that title.
Boyhood isn't a bad title, but it somewhat obscures the fact that the film follows the lives of a mother, her two children, and assorted spouses, neighbors, teachers, and playmates over the course of twelve years. Linklater's daring approach was to use the same actors throughout—a plan the necessitated extending the shooting schedule over the same amount of time.
The result is an unusual film, neither a real-life documentary nor a full-blown cinematic achievement of the order of Terrance Malick's The Tree of Life, but something in between.
Much of the material is day-to-day stuff—siblings fighting in the back seat of the car, not wanting to do their chores, or drinking beer at teen parties—and it can be painful to watch because it reminds us of ourselves, back when we were egotistical kids hungry for friendship but also some sort of personal ascendancy among our peers, and a little bit mad at, or at least indifferent to, our parents and the world for no reason in particular.
Much of the film's drama comes from the adults, who generally try to be good parents while also squeezing their own continuing development in somewhere. Patricia Arquette has been justifiably praised for her portrayal of Mason's mom. Ethan Hawke has a slightly easier job in the role of the divorced dad who cares about his kids but thinks what they really need is to become more flamboyant—like him. But no one could have handled the role better.
At the heart of Boyhood is the interface where the generations meet and interact. No event in the film is more important than this living membrane where values are exchanged implicitly over the course of many months and years. Parents feed and shape it. The kids often seek to escape its influence.
Watching squirrelly kids turn into young adults before our eyes is a thing of beauty, and likewise watching adults turn into happier, better adults. Perhaps the final grace of this unusual film is that it comes across as the story, not of scripted actors, but of real people sort of like us.