Friday, August 15, 2014

Boyhood (2014)

Critics around the country have praised Boyhood, Richard Linklater's new film. It was preordained for masterpiece status, and every critic fell in line. They were amazed that a filmmaker could tell a story with characters, including two small children, who grow 12 years older without the need for extra makeup, or different actors. Linklater accomplished this by filming his actors once a year for twelve years. He chose Ellar Coltrane to play the boy, Mason, and his daughter Lorelie to play Mason's sister. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette played their parents. This group would get together, scribble down the next installment of the script, shoot for a couple of days and say goodbye till next year. Despite being shot over 12 years, and running almost three-hours, Boyhood remarkably only took a combined 39 days to shoot. Apparently Linklater and his team would sometimes write the scenes the night before. Such exhaustive attention to detail surely couldn’t have any downsides if all the critics are satisfied. Yet the film is surprisingly disjointed, and many of the scenes are poorly written and uninspired.

Linklater's film unfolds like a series of cliched cultural snapshots from the last 15 years: Gameboy, Harry Potter, Britney Spears, Hot Topic, the Iraq War and Obama. These are the historical cues, along with Mason's changing hairstyles, to let us know the years are flying by. It's like Forrest Gump for the 2000's, filmed in real time. With each passing year, Mason sits on the sidelines as his mother blows through drunken husbands, and his dad settles down by replacing his GTO with a minivan. He must juggle his parents' emotional baggage with the overwrought hallmarks of boyhood. Mason gets bullied in the bathroom as he clutches his schoolbooks in terror. A smaller Mason looks at a Victoria Secret catalogue before graduating to internet porn by puberty. Not long after he is peer pressured into drinking a beer by some comically obnoxious older kids. As Mason grows into himself, a cultural stereotype starts to take shape. With longhair comes smoking weed and kissing girls in the back of a wood-panel station wagon. With spiked hair comes emo fashion accessories, suspect work ethic, and a passion for photography.

Coltrane isn't unwatchable in his teenage years like Lorelei, but he has about as much presence on camera as your average reality tv personality, musician, or athlete turned dramatic actor. Linklater successfully molded Coltrane into the same pseudo-intellectual, self-centered, perpetually unsatisfied wimp that Ethan Hawke played in Before Sunrise. He shrinks from the screen with age, either hiding behind his bangs, or in full recoiled posture. Some critics have praised the parents as the real center of Linklater's story about boyhood. This is either because these critics are parents themselves, and parents always think it's all about them. Or because, when fully audible, Mason only manages to string multiple sentences together when he's petulantly complaining to his girlfriend: first about the superficiality of Facebook, then about her cheating on him.

The most interesting and worthwhile thing Richard Linklater's new film Boyhood has to offer is the chance to see its lead actors at 12 different stages of their life. Some grow taller, some grow fatter, and some never should have become actors. Besides the wonder of aging, Boyhood contributes a trite and predictable coming-of-age story with little style to compensate for its overinflated sense of importance. At the end of the film, an attractive college girl speaks on behalf of Linklater's clever pen, asking our protagonist, do we seize moments or do moments seize us? I almost started laughing when she preceded the question with something like, “you know how people say,” and couldn't contain myself after hearing what came after. Bits of fortune-cookie wisdom like this are sprinkled throughout Linklater's film, putting Boyhood over the edge in the minds of critics. They at least gave reviewers a jumping off point (aside from the 12 years) with so little else unique or interesting about the film to work with.  

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