Written and directed by Richard Linklater, "Boyhood" was filmed over the course of 12 years. Using the same actors for its entire duration, "Boyhood" depicts the growth from adolescence to adulthood of its main character Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane). This method of narration is similar to Linklater's "Before" trilogy which focused on three individual events centered around the same couple over the course of eighteen years.
Linklater's method of narration is more than just a gimmick however. Although "Boyhood" follows the character of Mason Jr. from the start of the film when he is six years old, up until its end when he is eighteen, it would be impossible to film his entire life. Instead we are only presented fragments of each of the twelve years. These fragments in turn work together to make up the entirety of the film, and segues between the years are not only cued by a physical change of character appearances, such as an increase in height or a change in fashion style, but also by subtle nods towards historical events or pop culture. One scene recalls Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) strongly opposing the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 while another showcases Mason Jr. attending the release of J.K. Rowling's 2006 novel, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
"Boyhood" avoids being a kitsch of cultural references with Linklater not only tackling a myriad of themes one can expect in a coming of age drama but also by dealing with more contemporary issues. One typical scene that depicts the former is Mason Jr. and his friends fringing through a bra catalogue in their adolescence. A scene that depicts the latter has Mason Jr. swearing off Facebook because as he states it: "That's the thing though, I'm not doing it for attention. I just want to try and not live my life through a screen. I want some kind of like actual interaction."
Another problem that Linklater avoids as a screenwriter is having Mason Jr. act as a mouthpiece for his ideas. As Mason Jr. approaches his high school graduation he comes to odds with the ideologies that adults push on him. His mother's boyfriend tells him that being a man is about having a job and being able to afford a car, his teacher believes him to be too free-spirited and scolds him for believing he is "unique," and finally his boss at the restaurant he works at urges him to become a fry cook. The stress of growing up is relieved by Mason Jr. in the form of dialogues a la Waking Life or Slacker (two films also written and directed by Linklater) with characters discussing a variety of topics, but "Boyhood" never presents one ideology as being more correct than another, be it Mason Jr's or someone else's.
Despite its focus on Mason Jr., "Boyhood" shares screen time with both Mason Sr. and Mason Jr's mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette). Linklater emphasizes that people still change long after adulthood as presented by Mason Jr's parents. Divorced from one another, Mason Jr. bounces back between the two over the years, and we get to see the gradual transformation that happens with each one.
Mason Sr.'s first appearance marks him being a "musician" who moved to Alaska in order to "find" himself whereas towards the end of the film he has settled down and grown more responsible. In a conversation with his son and daughter, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), Mason Sr. warns them to not commit the same "mistakes" that he did in his youth. Olivia on the other hand is a hard-working, single mother who has sacrificed her youth in order to raise her kids properly. She decides to go back to school in order to earn her Master's degree and get a "real" job, but despite this busy schedule she's always there to impart a small bit of wisdom to not only her children but to the audience as well.
As Mason Jr. prepares to go to college Patricia Arquette delivers a sentimental performance where she comes to grips with her own mortality. "Boyhood" ends on a more positive note however with Linklater shifting to Mason Jr's first day of college. Taking up his roommate's invitation to go hiking, Linklater depicts a scene of beauty where Jr. and his friends are surrounded by mountain ranges, reinforcing Olivia's earlier lines but also coming full circle from the previous scene by reminding us that although Jr's childhood is ending, his adulthood has only just begun.