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Stars: Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Marco Perella, Evie Thompson, Brad Hawkins, Jenni Tooley, Steven Chester Prince, Bonnie Cross

Director: Richard Linklater

Unlike so many movies that seem to the viewer to run for 12 years, this compelling one-of-a-kind coming-of-age drama was actually 12 years in the making - and eminently well worth waiting for.

Writer-director Richard Linklater’s fictional drama tracks the life of 6-year-old Texan boy Mason – a unique performance by Ellar Coltrane – over 12 years during which his family life disintegrates and reintegrates, school alters his attitudes, hormones and romance kick in, there are good times and bad times before, at the age of 18, Coltrane leaves high school and heads for college…

While the focus is firmly on Coltrane, Linklater creates an equally persuasive cast of characters. The director’s daughter Lorelei impresses as Coltrane’s sister, Patricia Arquette is extraordinary as the mother and, while his performance never for an instance allows you to forget who is he, Ethan Hawke is good as Coltrane’s hormone-driven father, notably in a climactic scene where father and son finally and convincingly bond after Hawke has catalysed many of the traumatic events in the boy’s life beginning with his unfaithfulness to Arquette and then, when she moves Coltrane and his sister from Easy Texas to Houston, Hawke’s return into their lives after a long absence in Alaska.

An initially pleasant but ultimately drunken and abusive stepfather (well played by Marco Perella) are among the many traumas – large and minor – that affect Coltrane’s emotional journey into his teens and the start of his climactic solo life as a college student. It’s not all traumatic, of course. Teenager Coltrane’s night out drinking with his fellow teens and talking about sex (as neophytes) has the ring of truth, he and Hawke go electioneering by stealing a pro-McCain sign from a neighbour’s garden and, somewhat embarrassed, Coltrane receives a Bible as a 15th birthday present.

Many Hollywood child stars saw their celluloid careers bite the dust when acne struck: not so here. Coltrane’s spotty teenage complexion adds extraordinary verisimilitude to the drama although – a tad less credibly – the entire cast appears to boast shining and perfect Hollywood teeth.

I enjoyed, too, Lorelei’s emphatic delivery of the teenage password “Whatever!’ to her mother, one of the many small but telling scenes that combine to make Boyhood a unique experience to savour and, hopefully, more than once.

And Linklater turns out to be surprisingly prescient, too, when characters discuss – long before Disney began their return to the money-machine – a remake of Star Wars.

Alan Frank

USA 2014. UK Distributor: Universal. Colour.
166 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 2, Swearing 3.

Review date: 14 Jul 2014