Boyhood is a movie I wasn’t sure I was going to like, and now that I’ve seen it, I can confirm that I don’t like it. It’s not that it’s a horrible movie, it’s just very generic and boring despite the interesting conceit of having it filmed across twelve years. There were aspects of it I appreciated, but on the whole found it a dull task to get through.
Boyhood tells the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) growing up in Texas, graduating high school, and starting off on his own. The film takes us through Mason’s and his sister Samantha’s (Lorelei Linklater) first move, his mother’s (Patricia Arquette) continuing education to become a professor and her marriage to the alcoholic Bill (Marco Perella) and the disastrous merging and separation of their two families, his interest in photography and the mysteries of life in his teens, his first love Sheena (Zoe Graham), and eventually his leaving the nest and going off to college. All through this he is supported by his mother and his father (Ethan Hawke), who comes and goes but eventually settles down with a family of his own.
The main thing that bothers me about this movie is the way it was shot, and I don’t mean the cinematography itself, is more interesting than the story it’s telling. Mason is just an average kid that goes through boring average stuff, and it is cut off before we have a chance to draw a real narrative from it. For example, one of his mom’s boyfriends will be yelling at him for coming home late and we’ll never witness the fallout from that scene, the film just picks up like a year later. We won’t know what that meant for their relationship, we don’t know whether Mason learned anything from that experience, we just know that it happened and then more stuff happened. I believe this is intentional because it keeps happening throughout the film, that Linklater chose to structure the story this way to resemble how someone would remember their life. I get that, but it still makes for a frustrating movie when you’re trying to follow the character’s development without scenes that build off one another more.
It is interesting that Linklater would go back and shoot the film over twelve years. It’s an interesting technique that at least has not been done with a film this mainstream before. It obviously took a lot of dedication and it’s always good to push the limits of the medium. You do see the kids grow up before your eyes and the adults change a bit too, but I’m not really sure how much it adds to the film overall. If they had gotten different child actors throughout the years would the film really have been markedly worse? The film seems to more interested in showing how the actors have physically changed over the years, along with the politics and technology around them, than how the characters are developing. I would have liked to see Mason as a child to have more connection to Mason as an adult than he did, despite being played by the same actor.
I could be saying this just because of who Mason is as a character though. In the beginning of the film he is quiet and reserved, and stays that way for the most part throughout, though he talks more and more as the film progresses. You don’t really know him all that well as a child because he doesn’t express himself that often. However, I will say I really liked his relationship with his father and I think Ethan Hawke gave the best performance in this whole movie. Given the acclaim Arquette has been getting for her performance I expected her role to be a more pivotal one, but it really isn’t. She has a few good moments, but doesn’t seem to have as much importance to the story as Hawke’s character does. Most of the times Mason does actually open up are with his father, and they are able to build on that at least a little bit as the film goes on.
What frustrates me the most about Boyhood that it is so long while showing the audience so little dramatic intensity. It was hard for me to maintain interest in the film over two hours and forty five minutes of a painfully generic coming of age story. The whole thing is just really boring to me, and I feel like I must be missing something because I have hardly heard any negativity towards this movie, which is baffling to me. The story is not thought-provoking in the least bit, the acting is pretty decent but not amazing (with the exception of Hawke to some extent), everything is shot pretty well but not in a particularly interesting way, I did appreciate the editing, they shifted through time periods in an interesting way, but that sort of went out the window because the film was so needlessly long. All in all, I really just did not like this movie and can’t understand the acclaim it’s getting.
Long story short: 2.5/4 stars
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