But really I could have photographed my nephew - now 20 and at university and a similar nice young man - over the last 12 years when I saw him once or twice a year and it could look to be pretty much the same. It does though remind us of the little moments which make up our lives and which we forget in everyday living. It also paints a realistic picture of blue collar America and growing up there, as the father comes and goes, and the mother has two other unsatisfactory marriages (shown in a bloodless undramatic way) but is finally happy doing her own thing, as Mason leaves for college. That scene where she says his leaving is the worst day of her life is particularly true for me, as my own mother said the same thing when I left home at 18 for the bright lights of London .... Arquette delivers the most nuanced performance as her character changes over the years.
Other commentators are much harsher, as in (from IMDb):
Be warned: This is NOT a drama. The movie is the opposite of a carefully constructed work of art. It's nothing but a re-enactment of memories, a collection of unmeaning scenes we may or may not know from our own lives (bowling, playing video games, reading Harry Potter etc.). I think it is only fair to ask: What is the point? . The basic idea of filming a boy growing into a young man during twelve years is interesting, yes, but sadly the film offers nothing more than that. This is not enough! Sadly, many critics seem to have liked the basic idea so much that to them it didn't even matter if the director would be able to make it interesting or not.
The film which is much too long follows an unstable family and focuses on the life of Mason, a character that has absolutely no interesting characteristics whatsoever. Mason walks through this film as if he was in a coma or half asleep; he has no ambitions. At some point he gets his first kiss, gets interested in photography, goes to college at which point the film ends. I kid you not, this is the whole movie. The mother becomes a teacher at a local college and always seems to attract the wrong guys. The father is an unemployed loser who only talks about pop music and ends up being a square. Mason's sister (the director's daughter) grows up too and that's pretty much all you can say about her.
It did though come first in the "Sight & Sound" recent Top 20 Films of 2014.