Boyhood Is A Fascinating Movie More Because Of How It Was Made, Than The Movie Itself
I just saw Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, and it was pretty interesting, though mostly on the technical level (it was filmed over a period of 12 years); as an exercise in innovative filmmaking. As a movie meant to engage an audience, it’s way too long–clocking in at almost three hours–and also curiously mistitled because for a movie named ‘Boyhood’ it deals very superficially with the ‘boy,’ of the title, Mason (Ellar Coltrane).
Traditional movies, when you see a young person age any length of time they’re typically played by a younger actor; so to see an actor literally age in front of you is pretty remarkable.
The problem is that Linklater doesn’t do anything–beyond the obvious–with his innovative idea. Mason and his family go through ups, as well as downs (exemplified mostly by Mason’s mom, Patricia Arquette, and her serial marriages).
The actors all do their jobs well, though Ethan Hawke is particularly welcome as Mason’s father. The thing is, if you take away the fascinating way that the movie was made, I honestly think Boyhood would be a pretty ordinary drama because when you get down to it the concept–watching a character literally age before our eyes–is the most interesting thing that it has going for it.
Though once you get used to that, which for me happened sometime around the 2 hour mark, when I began to get a bit antsy, and things got a bit less interesting.
So we watch as Mason grows from five to 18 years, when he’s soon to head off to college. There’s a lot of physical growth, but we never actually learn much about the character.
Linklater had an incredible opportunity to not only show us someone growing up literally in front of the camera, but someone forming the ideas and concepts that would come to define them as a person. But we don’t get any of that. We learn a lot of obvious stuff, that Mason is a child of divorce, he argues with his sister, and other fairly obvious and superficial stuff.
Which is what makes the film so infuriating, especially since you see the character for virtually 100 percent of the movie, but you never learn what it is that makes him “tick.” His body grows and lengthens right before our eyes (like some sort of John Carpenter’s Starman-type effect, except approximating real time) but physical changes are only one–and arguably the smallest–part of what separates an adult from a child.
Another problem that I had with the movie was that, due to the very innovation that Linklater introduced, was that as a viewer I felt out of control. There was no way to tell when the movie was going to end, because there was never really any central drama; it was hard to know how I should feel at any particular time.
It became oddly disconcerting after awhile. In fact, a person sitting next to me said, half-jokingly, “This movie is going to end when the kid dies.”
And the thing is, they could have been right. There was just no way to tell when Linklater was going to call “Cut.”
After it finished another movie came to mind, Robert Redford’s Ordinary People, but what made that movie so impressive was it was willing to go deeper into the lives of its characters, so that we could see their flaws, which if we’re being honest with ourselves are what makes us human and makes a movie interesting.
The thing is, while Redford’s film was structured in a more conventional manner, there was something cathartic about it, something triumphant about someone facing and overcoming their demons.
But Boyhood, because it has little to offer beyond its initial concept, and even less actual drama, comes off a bit trite. I also have a sneaking feeling that it will be remembered mostly for the experiment it was, as opposed to the great movie it could have been.