It’s been nearly a month since the Oscars, and by now, regular people have already moved on with their lives, because they are well-adjusted human beings. However, because I’m the furthest possible thing from well-adjusted, I’m still beaming over Birdman winning Best Picture, even though it’s been awhile since the freaking ceremony, and the Oscars don’t mean a damn thing anyway.
As I’ve been skimming through some post-Oscars reaction stuff (In Mid-March? I repeat, what the hell is wrong with me!?!?) I’ve noticed that a lot of people (Forgive me, I couldn’t give you an exact percentage, because I don’t have THAT much free time) seem to be upset that Birdman won, the major complaint being that, while Birdman is a great movie (I wholeheartedly agree), it doesn’t hold a candle to the once-a-generation marvel that is Boyhood, the slice-of-life movie by Richard Linklater.
That, I have a little trouble believing.
See, despite all the hype surrounding it, and all the terrific reviews that the film has gotten ever since its premier at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, I still don’t see it as much more than just a good movie that, unfortunately, doesn’t hold up that well under actual scrutiny (Not “Oh, it took twelve years to make?!?!?! PRAISE LINKLATER!!!!”)
So, in the interest of putting this movie to rest, I’ve decided to go a bit beyond my actual review of it and give a few reasons why I think that, while certainly not the worst movie you’ll ever see, it doesn’t hold up. As one of the few people on Planet Earth who’s sat through the movie four times (Once for my review, once with my parents, once with my brother and once in preparation for this post).
Before really getting into it, I should point out, for the umpteenth time, that this is just my opinion. If someone was really moved by Boyhood, or thought that it really was the best movie of this century so far. If you think that, terrific. I just don’t see what the big deal is.
1. Nostalgia doesn’t make a movie good, nor does it hold up very well over time.
This is kind of a minor point, but this movie does lean a little bit too much on getting that warm, nostalgic feeling from the audience. I’m sure I don’t need to explain this, but nostalgia does not make a movie good. Not only that, but it also serves to date the movie, so future generations may not connect to it as much as our generation apparently does. As somebody who grew up in around the same time period that the movie was set in, I don’t mind as much as I probably should, but still, the lingering shots of old Apple computers and nods to Harry Potter and the fucking Star Wars prequels aren’t going to help the movie in the years to come.
Again, not a huge complaint, but not something that sits well, either.
2. The “12-Year” gimmick: Cool technical accomplishment, not a great indicator of quality.
According to most people, the biggest thing this movie has going for it is the fact that it was filmed over twelve years, and while I see a little bit of merit to that argument (Specifically, that Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette managed to keep their characters interesting for one week of filming once every year), I don’t know if that really makes the film that much better. This may be the first time a non-documentary film takes this approach, but we’ve still seen people grow up before our eyes on screen before. There’s actually an entire genre of television dedicated to it. You may recognize it, it’s called “sitcoms”.
I know, I’m uncultured, but it’s true, isn’t it? During, shit, I dunno, Full House, we actually saw those characters grow up before our eyes and develop as human beings.
So, yeah, as far as I’m concerned, while it was a clever decision, and it was mostly executed alright, it doesn’t really elevate the film all that much. Besides, I don’t really think that most of the credit for the whole “twelve years” concept should go to Richard Linklater, but whoever was in charge of editing all that goddamn footage into a coherent movie. Really, what was so impressive about Linklater’s direction? Seriously.
3. The main character isn’t very interesting.
It’s not always necessary for movies to have particularly interesting protagonists. The science fiction, fantasy and action genres can attest to that. The reason that those genres have so many blank slate protagonists is so the audience can insert themselves into the role. Someone with a very basic personality like Neo in the first Matrix (A very basic character) is a whole lot more fun to watch than he would be if he was given more than the most basic of motivations to do what he does, because if that were the case, the movie may still be enjoyable, but Neo would be a lot harder to step into the shoes of, if that makes any sense.
Mason Evans, Jr is this kind of protagonist, and it doesn’t particularly work in the movie. This character is not particularly interesting, and for a movie like this, he really should be.
See, Boyhood is the very definition of a slice-of-life movie. These kinds of movies live and die off of the character being engaging to watch. Especially when the movie is nearly three hours long. His character arc is: Small child quietly observes everything, pre-teen quietly observes everything, whiny teenager who observes everything while also occasionally waxing bullshit philosophical. This does not exactly make for emotional investment. Seeing him grow up before your eyes doesn’t make up for his nondescript personality. I’ve known people for twelve years in real life, and I’m still indifferent towards them. Why the hell should I feel any different about this bland, boring character?
4. The wrong character was the protagonist.
So, yeah, Mason isn’t that compelling of a character. However, Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette’s characters were very intriguing. Besides the fact that the performances were great, these characters are genuinely excellent and likable. Ethan Hawke is trying to stay genuine even as he’s being forced into the conventional life that he didn’t want with Patricia Arquette. Do we get more of that? No! We do get more of Mason falling out with his high school girlfriend, though! How fucking riveting! Patricia Arquette’s character also has potential! She seems attracted to unstable or even dangerous partners! She’s desperately trying to get a foothold on her life! Do we see more of that? Noooope! What the fuck do we get ?! Mason hanging out with a bunch of skeeves, breaking wooden boards, obviously! Fucking ENTHRALLING!!! Clearly, this movie is the goddamn Citizen Kane of our age!!!
5. At a certain point, the writing just becomes super terrible.
You may have noticed, but I’m kind of a stickler for good writing in any medium. And, being a teenager, I would say I’m a pretty good judge o realistic teenage dialogue. And, folks, this ain’t it.
The first third or so of Boyhood is actually pretty great, but I feel like, right when Mason hits junior high, Linklater, the same guy who wrote Dazed and Confused, mind you, completely forgets how to write dialogue for teenagers.
I defy anybody who likes this movie (Which includes me, mind you) to defend these lines as realistic an actual teenager, or, hell, an actual person, would say.
“You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment? I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around, you know, like the moment seizes us.”
“Hey, welcome to the suck.”
“You know Jim, you’re not my dad.”
So, yeah, maybe we should think twice before elevating Richard Linklater to God status?
if those lines didn’t convince you…
“You know that goth girl that wears a lot of Hot Topic? Well, she and I used to be best friends but we aren’t anymore because she thinks I’m a preppy, but I still like her. Anyway, she cut herself, and now she’s in the hospital, so I’m going to go visit her. Have you read the Twilight books?”
Great post! I really liked the movie, but definitely did not think it was worth the hyperbolic praise heaped upon it (that being said, it was my fourth favorite of the year). I agree with you about Mason; I mostly had a problem with Ellar Coltrane’s performance, which got less and less interesting as the movie went on, and yeah, that is definitely not how teenagers talk. I liked a lot of the dialogue, but it didn’t really fit. Of course, I still think Linklater’s a fantastic writer (most recently, Before Midnight was a true masterpiece in my eyes).
Oh, for sure, Linklater’s talent as a writer isn’t in question here (Dazed and Confused is my personal favourite of his). That makes it that much more confusing for me when we get a scene of Mason hanging out with a bunch of older kids, breaking wooden boards and lying about sexual conquests instead of, y’know, SOME ACTUAL CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT.
Also, yeah, the more I see Ellar Coltrane’s performance, the less impressed I am. Maybe I just have a bias towards mumbling and emo haircuts, I dunno.