Do people see movies alone? I feel like Richard Linklater's Boyhood could be the type of movie to see alone.
The one thing that I must say before I start is that everyone should see this film. It transcends the confines of a "movie" and delves into the realm of art more than anything i've ever seen. Hence, as a production, this movie is a masterpiece. Hands down. Linklater filmed over a span of 12 years, using the same actors during that whole time... Unheard of. There are so many risks to this approach, with an uncertain reward at the end of the road. But at a completely objective, analytical standpoint, Boyhood was just an above average film. Which is why I have to look at it in those two different lights: as a production, and as a film.
Director Richard Linklater stabbed at an idea that could be either hit or miss, and he made pretty solid contact. Like I said, using the same actors over a span of a few years is quite crazy and ambitious, but Linklater is no rookie to the concept. He is responsible for the love stories Before Sunrise, Sunset, and Midnight. These movies starred the same two leads (one of them being Ethan Hawke, the come-around father of the lead, Mason, in Boyhood) throughout the three films, whose release dates were 1995, 2004, and 2013, respectively. He is also the director of classics such as Bad News Bears, School of Rock, and a personal favorite: Bernie.
|Really, with that hair?|
As a film, I think Boyhood deserves a bit less praise. However, it did many things right, connecting with the audience, drawing sympathy, and creating a character we can root for; everything we can expect out of a good Drama. It's timeline made it relatable to many age demographic, as every kid could connect with a certain age, and the struggle of divorced parents could speak to those divorcees watching the film, as well as kids with a similar domestic stance. Boyhood covered well some daunting concepts such as that of relationships and time, but fell short on ones like consequences and meaning. I think the most powerful message this film displays is one that time is the only truly independent variable. It really proves that with the blink of an eye, years can fly by without giving you a real chance to grasp what's meaningful. The cuts between years worked to Linklater's disadvantage at times but proved helpful in others: on one hand, it created some confusing timelines and seemingly pointless changes, while on another, it provided us with a sense of longing, one similar to that felt by a mother missing her child's younger years. I say confusing timelines because we sometimes didn't know how a romance started or ended, and curious changes can be seen in the likes of Mason's sister, Samantha, becoming emo for no apparent reason. Although I said this is a weak point, I want to contradict myself here. This style can be a testament to the fact that time has no biases, judgements, or preferences, and it's impact on everyone's lives can be felt so abruptly. It also made viewers feel more connected, missing, perhaps yearning to return to times when Mason didn't have to deal with the temptations of drugs or alcohol, under the cover of naiveté.
Speaking of drugs and alcohol, is it just me, or are teenagers always portrayed as irresponsible assholes who have literally no regard for their own or others' lives? (American Pie, Superbad, Project X) While Mason grew up, from 8th grade onwards, he was constantly barraged with peer pressure to drink and smoke. From personal experience, I can vouch that it isn't that bad, and most guys don't talk about girls like that and call people faggots so frequently (and mean it). It all just seemed a bit forced. But that wasn't the only strife that seemed manufactured. Throughout the film we see that Mason's mom, played by Patricia Arquette, has a questionable taste in men. Time after time she is courted successfully by men who appear nice, but are real scumbags after a year or so of marriage. The scenes where these stepdads lash out are very scary ones, don't get me wrong. But to see two husbands of equally asshole-ish degree seems a bit like forced conflict, as if Linklater needed to add some insecurity to the lives of Mason and Samantha. What made it seem even more fake was the fact that these relationships seemed to work themselves out, breakups or fights appearing off-screen. This seemed like a bit of a theme. Any problem Mason or his family had, typically got better without leaving any real mark or causing any repercussion. Mason, for example, besides some drunk and disapproving stepdads, in a way coasts through life seemingly having things handed to him. Nothing bad ever happens to him after falling under the influence of drugs and alcohol. After a stern talk from his photography teacher saying he will go nowhere, he lands a scholarship to a photography school. Everywhere he goes, Mason has a very attractive girl who is into him. And the one thing that seemed too perfect was after the mom told a plumber that he was smart and should go to school, he later ends up owning a restaurant they visit. The only reason I have a problem with things working themselves out in this way is because it makes it harder to become immersed in the story, it takes a bit of the realism out of a film where realism is the main objective.
While Boyhood eventually revolves solely around Mason, it starts of as move of a movie about family, tracking everyones lives and just giving insight into a day in the life of a family of four (albeit with an estranged father). But really quality performances from Hawke and Arquette tie the first half together, while Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, strengthens his acting to become a bit more layered during the back half. So while the film is in majority one about Mason growing up, the beginning focuses more evenly on the parenting aspect. Here, we see Arquette, a house-poor mom struggling to keep up with her two kids and her own life. She must be stern with them most of the time, and has very little time to just take them out and have fun. Enter Ethan Hawke, the stepdad whose job is to pick the kids up every weekend in his GTO and have fun with them. How can this be fair to mom? Now i did not grow up with this type of parenting, but it seems fairly common, and Boyhood once again depicts a pretty complex concept during normal everyday lives. I thought Hawke's was such an important influence on Masons life, constantly giving little tidbits of advice, and as Hawke evolved as a dad, so did Mason into a young man. Hawke stole every scene he was in, and he seemed to be the only redeeming factor in Mason's life. I relished the moments where they were together, and longed for him when Mason needed guidance. Arquette, after all of the bullshit with second husbands, going to school, finally can just be a mom near the end of the film. But she, more than anyone, is left, empty handed, with nothing but questions. There is a scene that really spoke to me, as a second child about to fly the coop and leave my parents all alone. When Mason is packing up for college, we find mom crying, asking him, "Is that it?". She rolls over all the big moments in hers and Mason's lives, and begins to realize that the next big landmark is her own death. How is that supposed to make Mason feel? Or for that matter, any guy my age who is essentially abandoning their mother? As a tear rolled down my eye, I was really forced to think about life and time in a different perspective.
It's hard to tell with Mason. Hard to tell if he's meaningful, hard to tell how real he is. Fairly introspective throughout his adolescence, he becomes a soft spoken, suave guy as he nears college. Because age is marked via haircuts and popular songs at the time, we get a clear sense of when Mason grows, and that allows us to analyze his change specifically. I think he's fairly likable throughout, and he goes through phases in the form of girlfriends, outlooks on life, etc. As the naiveté of young Mason begins to shed, he begins asking important questions, ones that we struggle to answer every day. He brings up modern conflicts such as society and technology, and we see his relationship with his girlfriend reach its pinnacle, and its downfall. His storyline, character arc all fit in well and are both compelling, but to me, lacks passion and direction. I would credit this to the fact that Linklater didn't want to give Coltrane direction, instead, he let Coltrane's real life changes dictate the progress of the movie. This, while creating a lot of lulls, was a powerful tool that let us witness the real growth of intelligence and maturity of a young man. But, time and time again, we get the sense that he just doesn't really care about much.
Excusing the cringe-worthy acting/writing during that scene in the abandoned house, there wasn't any one thing too distracting. A well woven storyline and unparalleled idea helped turn what is an above average film into a piece of art that does exactly what Linklater wants. Boyhood puts time into a new perspective, makes the viewer analyze its impact on a single subject, and afterwards, analyze its impact on themselves. What really matters after seeing this film is that we begin to ask questions, we begin to try to relate our lives with others, and we start to realize that once our lives are set in motion, everything counts, and nothing matters.