BOY'S LIFE Ellar Contrane emerges as the central character of 'Boyhood.'
In the engrossing Boyhood, Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise, School of Rock) follows a small group of actors over the course of 13 real-time years. Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), live with their mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette). Father Mason Sr., known as Dad (Ethan Hawke), lives elsewhere. We see the actors age in their roles over the course of a decade, and it all happens without the big crises: no weddings, no funerals, no arrests, no sieges by cancer.
As Mason grows from five to 18, Boyhood becomes his movie. He's in almost every scene. It may be that Linklater had something more family-focused in mind when he began; sister Samantha, for instance, is a delightful brat but later becomes laid-back and secretive.
As for mom and dad, Hawke's character grows up in tandem with his son but maybe has a harder time for it, trading his GTO for a minivan and growing a sad little mustache. And Olivia is drawn to men who look like they have it figured out, but who turn out to be Republican martinets with personal problems.
Boyhood is grounded in the cultural war. We see the kids campaigning in their neighborhood for Obama, and later, when Mason celebrates his 15th birthday at his step-grandparent's place in the piney woods, his presents are a 20-gauge shotgun and a Bible with his name embossed on the cover in gold. It's an affectionate visit, even if Mason doesn't know how to take it.
If there is such a thing as history too recent to remember, there's also such a thing as memories too beautiful to carry in the mind. Boyhood recovers them, or at least the memories like them. Linklater is a constant student, gladly learning and gladly teaching.
'Boyhood' is playing at the Rafael Film Center, 118 Fourth St., San Rafael. 415.454.5813.