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Review - Boyhood

By midlandsmovies, Dec 21 2014 01:10PM

Boyhood (2014) Dir. Richard Linklater

I take a big gulp as I move up the staircase to a large platform. A bead of sweat descends from my forehead. With a dry mouth I attempt to speak. The crowd finally quieten to a deadly silence. I’m being stared at by piercing eyes.

Finally a noise...

“I didn’t like Boyhood”, I croak.

An audible intake of breath emanates from the throng. Then a pause as I stare at the open mouthed pack.

There. I said it.

I’m not taking this solitary position lightly. It’s not an intentional contrarian view. Going against the grain for the sake of exposure. I genuinely did not enjoy Linklater’s much lauded latest release and I’ll tell you why.

I’m sure you know the story by now. The film follows the childhood of one particular American boy called Mason and although fictional, the director spaced out his shooting so that the film actually spans 12 years of the actor’s life and subsequently we see him physically changing and growing on screen from sequence to sequence.

From the opening spiralling shot of a young boy on grass to the final teenager at college, Linklater follows the whole family – Mason himself (played by Ellar Coltrane), his sister Olivia Patricia (the director’s daughter Lorelei Linklater) and the estranged parents Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke – all of whom grow old along with the protagonist. And that’s essentially it.

“Boyhood began filming without a completed script”. That fact alone tells you everything about this film. As Mason grew up, my interest faded as the film slowly descending into an absolute entertainment vacuum. The conflict and clashing needed to build the tension that is so crucial to drama was absent and without it, the film is just a documentary. And what a boring one at that.

I began to ask myself why there was so much absent - the adventure, the unknown, friends (where the fuck are those important relationships made during these years?), excitement, laughter, games and most important fun – before adult foibles become an inevitable necessity. We end up just looking at the life of a child almost through an adult prism – all the seriousness of it and that alone.

As Mason grows, the child actor slowly becomes a new Hayden Christensen – a charisma void of a lead and too much of “I did this thing the other day” telling rather than showing the audience what has happened in his life. Like George Lucas, who simply placed people in rooms to talk about (the more exciting) things they had done, Linklater mismanages the balancing act of visuals, narrative, construction, plot and drama. For me, it’s all construction here which takes you from the film completely. I found myself thinking I wonder if they kept the car all these years between takes. If I was worrying about that then I feel that the moviemaker had not captivated this audience member at all.

I’m not heartless but sadly felt no emotional connection with the characters (the sister is clearly the character we should be following) and although it is a controversial position, I suppose there was always going to be one great film I was going to stand in contrast with.

From Russell Maloney (New Yorker) who said The Wizard of Oz was “a stinkeroo”, to Pauline Kael’s (Harper’s) scathing attack on The Graduate: “Mike Nichols’ ‘gift’ is that be lets the audience direct him; this is demagoguery in the arts,” there are lauded movies that will always not connect for one reason or another with critics. Infamous contrarian Armond White said that Spike Lee’s Malcolm X had “no formal innovations or controversial content....Let the mourning begin” and I guess this film was not the one for me.

Aside from the unique conceit of being filmed over 12 years, I really got the sense that there’s not much here. I’d argue if this film was simply recast at ages 8, 12 and 16 I doubt I would have given the whole thing a second glance and not have noticed much of a difference too.

A bold and daring experiment but so is the documentary “7 Up” which has followed people every 7 years for over 50 years and whose protagonists, again, have much more interesting lives.

And nostalgia? The film presents precisely the opposite. No warmly (and maybe falsely) remembered childhood events. Almost no events at all. Linklater removes the nostalgia factor but also removes anything memorable at all. Did Mason have any part of his life worth remembering? Looking back on my own boyhood, I had a “regular” upbringing but I don’t recall it being anything like this. I know the eras are different but for a film about time I felt that the characters barely moved on at all in their lives and it certainly wasn’t fun in the sense I know the word. 12 years worth of footage and this was the most interesting cut they could put together?

If I was this kid I’d be as depressed as he is towards the end. His life is dull. Duller than most peoples’ actual lives. And that’s the problem. Turn it off and go and spend some time with your kids. Or with your family. Or with someone else’s kids.

Maybe I’ll be accused of missing the subtleness. This is a gentler affair with an unobtrusive camera they’ll say. Far from subtle, these shots of technology are heavy handed (we can already see the passing of time on the casts faces) so every shot of different technology wasn’t needed. It should have been background. In addition, I’m not against Linklater or his experiments either. The rotoscoping in the strange sci-fi A Scanner Darkly is a brilliantly weird interpretation of the Phillip K Dick novella whilst his “Before...” series is a stunning look at relationships over time as well as trying his hand at commercial comedies (“School of Rock”) and interesting adaptations (“Fast Food Nation”) which all show his vast array of talents.

But this didn’t work for me. It was just so mind-numbingly dull. They say some films reflect what you yourself bring to it. I brought an exciting childhood with me and left with the memory of a dreary and tedious one. I enjoyed my boyhood, I didn’t enjoy this.


Midlands Movies Mike

EDIT: I’m not alone as I thought...





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