The last thing I jotted in my notes for Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" was simply, "It feels like life …"

The last thing I jotted in my notes for Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” was simply, “It feels like life …”

This sums it up for me. This is why this film that was shot with the same actors over the course of 12 years isn’t just a gimmick. It’s a bar-raiser for authenticity in film and an experience unlike anything else.

When Linklater started filming in 2002, he tapped unknown then-seven-year-old Ellar Coltrane to play his central character, Mason Jr. His separated parents (Ethan Hawke and Rosanna Arquette) and older sister (Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei) round out a family you’ll feel like you know.

Through Mason’s eyes, we see 12 years of evolution of self, seeing that rocky path in which a child grows into a sense of self. And we see the evolution of two parents who are (refreshingly) trying their best at it despite their flaws.

The ambition at play here even makes Linklater’s fantastic “Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight” series pale in comparison. Simply put, you could not achieve the same film with different actors or some makeup. The time investment put on film translates to the theatrical experience, and you’ll care about this family more than you expect.

Like the casting of the “Harry Potter” series, a lot was riding on the selection of Mason at an age when it was impossible to tell what the young actor would become, but in Coltrane, Linklater found gold. He’s natural and authentic as a child, and grows to be a thoughtful young man.

Hawke is fantastic as a sometimes-absentee dad who may grow up as much as Mason, but Arquette’s performance is a perfect complement. This film is about parenthood as much as it’s about growing up.

I rant against overlong running times, but the 2 hours and 46 minutes of “Boyhood” feels perfect and rolls by like a cool breeze. It’s almost exactly the same length as “Transformers: Age of Extinction” and almost exactly the opposite experience.

Linklater doesn’t broadcast the leaps in time, as we sometimes rejoin the family in the midst of new relationships and dilemmas that are sometimes resolved off-screen. The peaks and valleys don’t feel like Hollywood plot points. They feel like, well, life.

Watching “Boyhood” is one of the most joyful experiences you’ll have at the movies and easily the year’s best so far.

Photo courtesy of IFC Films