Unless you're willfully uninterested in film, you know about Boyhood's audacious gimmick already. Richard Linklater filmed a movie in two-week increments over 12 years, tracking a boy's life from age 6 to 18. The boy in question is named Mason, and he's played by Ellar Coltrane. We watch Mason—and Coltrane—become a man over the span of nearly three hours. You've read (or at least skimmed) articles about what an incredible achievement Boyhood is on a technical level, and you've probably seen interviews with Linklater and costars Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette about the incredibly intricate logistics that went into producing a film with a decade-plus production schedule. This is a big deal. Linklater's blockbuster-level special effect is time itself, and the fact that he was able to pull the movie off at all is some kind of filmmaking miracle.
Curiosity is natural: The first time you watch Boyhood, it takes a while to put the gimmick out of your head, to stop picturing Linklater running around behind the scenes, struggling to encourage his film to organically grow to encompass both Coltrane's development and the million little ways the world changes in a year. Boyhood does drop in small references to the time in which each segment was filmed—usually a pop song and a political reference—but it's not interested in being a retro-fest. It's interested, mainly, in the things that last; Hawke delivers a surprisingly moving monologue about the importance of the White Album, for instance, and a lecture from a photography teacher about responsibility quietly insinuates itself into the film's center and pulses meaning out to every last frame.
Now that we're done gawking at all the behind-the-scenes chronological wizardry, it's time to talk about the fact that Boyhood is much more than the sum of its parts.