Why It’s Okay to be Impressed But Not Drawn to “Boyhood”

Through the years: get ready to grow up with newcomer Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood.

Through the years: get ready to grow up with newcomer Ellar Coltrane in Boyhood.

 

A Ground-Breaking Movie Falls Flat Thanks to Uninspiring Characters 

Now that we are gearing up for the fall movies to come out and the Oscar race has unofficially begun with all of the film festivals coming out in Telluride, Venice, Toronto and New York for film studios both big and small to trot out the contenders they’ve either financed from the start of production or have acquired through these festivals and decided to put them out before film critics to see which films have enough buzz to warrant an actual Oscar® campaign. But before we head into this year’s fall campaign, and discuss all of the movies that may be hearing their name called when nominations are read come the first of the year, we have to discuss a movie that was the talk of the industry at the first important film festival of the year Sundance, and that was Richard Linklater’s groundbreaking docudrama “Boyhood.” “Boyhood” was filmed with the same cast over a twelve year period. The film focuses on young Mason (as played by unknown Ellar Coltrane) as he grows up with his single mom (Patricia Arquette) and older sister Samantha (Linklater’s daughter Lorelei) as they movie from town to town throughout Texas, as their mom attempts to get her masters degree and goes through failed marriage after failed marriage and the kid’s neer-do-well father (Ethan Hawke) pops in and out of their lives over the course of nine years. What makes Boyhood so remarkable is that Linklater filmed his crew over the span of twelve years, each over a short period of time so he could capture on film the small idiosyncrasies of young man growing up with life’s challenges and disappointments surrounding him. The film intends to serve as a nostalgic time capsule that attempts to capture the joys and obstacles of both parenting and growing up. Life indeed passes us by, as proven with Boyhood, Mason deals with life’s challenges in both school and home with aplomb and at the end we are wondering where the time has gone as we see our young man that we’ve focused on during the three hour long movie all grown up and on his own in college.

Impressed with the Filmmaking not with the Overall Film

I can only imagine the undertaking of this film in order to not only get financing but to also get it off of the ground scheduling wise. I have to give all of the actors credit for taking somewhat routine characters going through the motions of life evolving and turning those mundane lives into something fully lived and actualized. Much of the credit goes to director Linklater who took two non actors, one of which was his own daughter and no doubt nurtured them and carefully directed them in their scenes which clearly were filmed on the fly. There are doubts if this dramatic undertaking could be accomplished in today’s social media world. So what’s the problem? My problem with the film lies in the overall story of the movie, or the screen if you will. So often with life, there was a running theme in young Mason’s life, as if everyone around him, especially his mother (as played by Patricia Arquette) was failing at life and therefore indirectly failing our main character of Mason. The lesson I got from this movie is that life is hard, but parenting children by yourself is even harder. So our mother character marries two of the biggest losers on the planet and it’s so obvious that these relationships aren’t going to work out that the viewer can see them as bad news a mile away. The father character (as played by Ethan Hawke) is no better, coming in and out of Mason and Samantha’s life. Both parents were never going to win mother or father of the year, but my problem is that lack of awareness of their own children’s emotions rang both cold and hollow for me.

So Why Aren’t I In Love With This Movie Like Every Critic in the World?

Everyone and I mean everyone loved this movie. It’s being treated the second coming of autuer filmmaking. Why is it wrong that I only thought that Boyhood was just okay? I felt some of the performances, especially from the adults, fell flat and when they weren’t chewing scenery with the overemotional yelling moments they were playing it too paint by numbers during the more subtle scenes. No one seems to learn from their mistakes and this learning curve is clearly being passed onto their offspring. The biggest problem I have with the movie is it’s stereotypical portrayal of women, from the mother who comes across as the most passive aggressive individual you’ve ever met especially when it concerns the men in her life, to the one of the mother’s friends, who at the end of the movie starts flirting when she becomes attracted to a more mature Mason. The movie comes across as a tumultuous storyline that forces our young hero to experience dire personal conflict to just somehow find a conclusion in life. Part of me thinks that critics are just amazed with how Linklater filmed the movie for a few days ever year for over twelve years more than they are enthralled with the storyline. If this were the case, more of the critics would be giving out props to the arch of the storyline.

They grow up so fast...as you see not too much changes, for a while at least, into Boyhood.

They grow up so fast…as you see not too much changes, for a while at least, into Boyhood.

Bottom Line

For many film lovers Boyhood was the ultimate visceral treat on how to move a storyline along by filming the same actors as they grow up on camera year after year without having to change actors. The main problem I had was with the overall storyline which I felt added up to very little, and the dialogue enabled the female characters to come across as broad stereotypes. Ellar Coltrane is the real find here, so nuanced yet so natural as the audience is made to feel like we are living out his life story with him. My advice is to see this film to at least get what all of the hubbub is about. My feeling is before you do see it don’t raise your expectations so high that you’re expecting this epic movie and you’re only getting an above average coming of age tale told in what can be considered a unique way with the same actors aging in real time. If that’s the only unique qualifier for Boyhood to get serious award consideration then we need to have a true discussion on what a great film means to everyone.

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