Since it is your number one question, yes this movie has a gimmick. And no, it doesn’t use it as a crutch.

To the point for the uninitiated, Richard Linklater began filming Boyhood in 2002, filming his then six year old star (Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane) through 2014. The move is absurdly ambitious. Not only do we watch our protagonist grow up, but the entire core cast as well. This is the only visual trick in Hollywood where green screens and CGI are replaced with patience and craftsmanship. And it’s more impressive to see than any $200 million dollar blockbuster I’ve watched all year.

What we’re left with is almost voyeuristic. We spend nearly three hours with someone’s home movie on the big screen that toes the line between fiction and real life. I caught myself nodding with approval and shaking my head with preemptive disappointment. It was like looking into a time capsule. I’m an extremely nostalgic person – it’s a hell of a drug – and I watched this slow burn coming of age story with an incredible sense of urgency.

But where it was a hit for me it may fall apart for others. This is a long film. Packed with scenes that often don’t advance the story but I would argue are absolutely necessary. We’re experiencing a young man’s entire upbringing, which means plenty of scenes of day dreaming, over analyzing our records (there’s a fantastic scene between Mason and his father, played by Ethan Hawke, where they discuss the simplistic genius behind Wilco’s “Hate it Here” driving down the interstate) to waxing poetic about topics well beyond our years. It often felt like there was very little acting here, as if Ellar just showed up to set and resumed his own life.

So what’s it even about? The answer is, not much. This started as a series of vignettes, later abandoned to make one cohesive film following Mason, his sister and his sporadically married but mostly single Mother (played by Patricia Arquette), as he grows through everything most everyone has. Being the new kid, school, abusive parents, substance abuse, sex, girls, The Beatles, you name it. There is no central goal or conflict. And it was riveting.

If you’ve ever spaced out in your cubicle wondering where it all went wrong, this is the film for you. It is truly outstanding start to finish, with incredible performances from nearly everyone involved. I haven’t been this happy with a film in a very, very long time. One that truly lives up to the hype. For once.

Three great things about this movie:

Three less than great things about this movie:

This is easily the best film I’ve seen all year, and perhaps the last few. I can’t recommend it highly enough, I’ve been thinking about it since I saw it over a week ago. In a world where Marvel has a release schedule that will take us through 2020, this is a refreshingly original, beautiful film for anyone who misses movies before everyone wore a cape.

4.5/5 Cookays