Boyhood ★★★★★
9.00pm-12.15am Film4 Premiere

At the best part of three hours, it’s long, but Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is so full of best parts that you won’t be watching the clock.

Linklater shot in and around Houston over 12 years, on a drip-fed budget of around $200,000 a year. His far-sighted aim was to reinvigorate that hoary old chestnut the “coming of age” story by casting a six-year-old boy and watching him actually come of age. Although he was nominated for the best original screenplay Oscar, Linklater allowed events to influence his story, just like life has a habit of doing.

The pivotal part of Mason Evans Jr is filled by Ellar Coltrane. A bowl-headed suburban innocent in 2002 when we meet him, aged six, he argues with his older sister (Linklater’s talented daughter Lorelei) and winds up his self-improving single mom (Patricia Arquette). When we leave him, he’s 18. In the intervening years, his family has moved to the city, gained a new, authoritarian father figure and reconnected with absent father Ethan Hawke... and Mason has graduated from Harry Potter to pot.

While the teenage Mason becomes more taciturn and less talkative as he approaches university – a clear reflection of art imitating life (Linklater adjusted his story after each block of filming) – the less melodramatic ageing of his parents, Arquette and the infuriating but good-hearted Hawke, is just as fascinating to behold. (Arquette won the Oscar, the only win for a multi-nominated film that was frankly robbed.)

Hawke’s experience improvising the romantic trilogy Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight for Linklater over an 18-year timetable stood him in good stead for this even more ambitious project, which he is right to describe as “Tolstoy-esque”.

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It’s not entirely accurate to call Boyhood unique (Michael Winterbottom shot 2012’s Everyday over five years to reflect a father’s time in prison), but it’s arguably the closest fiction has come to life as we know it.

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