In a way it's the ultimate gimmick movie. Richard Linklater shot this coming-of-age story about ten days a year over a period of twelve years. And we see Mason (Ellar Coltrane), the hero of this movie, age before our very eyes, navigating the travails of youth - divorced parents, abusive step-parents, relocation, crushes, new love, breakups, and the nagging, unanswerable questions about what life really means.
In retrospect you wonder how much of Boyhood's praise stems from this accomplishment - are we simply giving Linklater credit for pulling it off? But most "gimmicks" in movies are the sole reason for the movie existing. Here, the timepsan of the shoot is the seed from which the movie grows. We watch Mason get incrementally older and wiser, yes. But so do we see his split parents (Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke) grow over the twelve years covered by the movie; we see Mom's growing success in academia rub against her steadily wrong judgment in choosing romantic partners, and we see Dad's still-youthful free-spiritedness seemingly disappear as he just suddenly turns adult. We catch more than glimpses of the country changing around them - Linklater had a script laid out at the movie's inception, but huge cultural turning points like the 2008 election are integrated into the movie's story. Relationships that feel eternal end within a cut from one year to the next. Life lessons that usually seed an entire movie here become just one tile in the mosaic of a movie. Or a life.
Linklater and team balance both the individual moments and hours with the overall tapestry within which they occur. Great Moments hit with incredible impact, but you're just as likely to tear up just watching Mason run behind a house. Boyhood harnesses the simple but elemental passage of time, and turns it into the summer's best special effect. You don't just see a movie twelve years in the making, you feel witness to the birth of the human soul. Boyhood is probably the greatest American movie we're going to get for a while. It's more than enough. It's life.