I thought this was a terrific film, although it’s likely not like any film you’ve seen before. It’s really a collection of short films, shot over 12 years. There’s a script for each mini-movie, but there’s no over-arching narrative line or dramatic climax. The Rule of Chekhov’s Gun does not apply — issues raised in one scene are not always resolved right away, or at all. It’s like riding a time-travelling train, stopping once a year.
The young man playing the boy, from age 6 to age 18, does a remarkable job. He seems to be a natural mimic — as he grows up, he not only starts to look like Ethan Hawke, his movie father, but walks and talks like him too. The director, Richard Linklater, got lucky with this kid.
The “real” movie actors, Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke play a couple whose early marriage falls apart fairly quickly, leaving the mother with two toddlers to raise on her own. The movie begins with the father suddenly reappearing and wanting to be a presence in his childrens’ lives (but without remarrying their mother). She’s not too thrilled about this, but makes a space for him, and things continue like that for 12 years, even as the life circumstances of both father and mother change quite dramatically. The movie is, among other things, a reflection on parenthood, and the often heroic efforts children and parents will make to stay bonded to each other even when the mother and father can’t stand each other. Even part-time Dad has a huge impact — although the stuff his kids remember isn’t always the stuff he thought was important.
I enjoyed this film a lot — it’s fascinating to see actors grow and change in real life, as opposed to via theatrical makeup. But there’s no denying that the story moves slowly at times, and it won’t be to everyone’s taste. That’s why I recommend it for home viewing, where you can start and stop at will. I also think it’s a great movie for families to see together.
Viewing note — there are no “calendar signs” in the movie, and no obvious breaks between one year and the next. Watch the haircuts (particular the boy’s).