Before Texan director Richard Linklater, the master behind Dazed and Confused, the Before Sunrise trilogy, School of Rock, A Scanner Darkly (Which I haven’t actually seen, it’s just fun to say) and Bernie, first unveiled his latest movie, Boyhood, way the hell back in January at the Sundance film festival, people didn’t know what to expect. A movie shot over…twelve goddamn years? What a weird fuckin’ concept, right? Yeah, good luck running up the Oscar nods on that premise, Richard. You best stick to your cute little art movies, alright?
And then, the critics saw the movie. What was the reaction? Well, I’ll just let Rotten Tomatoes do the talking for me.
Needless to say, I had pretty high expectations upon watching this movie. How did I feel about it after?
Well, I’ll tell you, but if you’ll excuse me real quick, I need to do a quick change of clothes.
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Produced by: Richard Linklater, Cathleen Sutherland, Jonathan Sehring, John Sloss
Written by: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke
Plot: Ha! Good one.
In all seriousness, there really isn’t much to the plot of this movie, which is kind of the point. There’s no real unifying obstacle to tie this movie together. Just the day-to-day obstacles that this kid and his family have to face.
The simplest way to really summarize the movie is this: Over twelve years, Mason Evans, Jr (Ellar Coltrane) grows from boy to man, experiencing life with his friends, his older sister (Lorelei Linklater) and his divorced parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette).
So, judging by my slightly ambiguous intro, you must really be expecting me to spout an unpopular opinion on this movie, like I didn’t think it was great, or, God forbid, I thought it sucked. If you do want me to tear into this movie apart, then I’m sorry to say you’re going to be disappointed. The vast majority of what this movie sets out to do, it does very, very well. It’s a very different kind of movie than what one would expect, even besides the fact that it was filmed over twelve years. This kind of filming over several years to show the passage of time has been done before (Several documentaries, such as Hoop Dreams, come to mind) but never over a scale as large as twelve years, and never in a movie that has received this much notoriety.
So, how does the story work as a movie? Pretty damn well, I’d say. It’s not told in a traditional three-act structure (How could it be, really?), it’s more of a look into the life of the main character as he grows up. Of course, he has somewhat of a rough life, because this movie would be boring otherwise, and there are some moments where that fact feels kind of needlessly tacked on. That said, it also helps us empathize with the character of Mason, who is portrayed well enough by Ellar Coltrane, even through his perilous child actor years.
Is the story engaging enough to keep one occupied during the entire 165-minute runtime? For the most part, yeah. I (Part of the Millennial audience I believe the film was aimed at) wasn’t bored for the majority of the movie, and I could relate to a lot of what Mason was going through. Okay, maybe not everything. My parents aren’t divorced, I’ve lived in one neighbourhood my whole life, and I haven’t lived in a home where drug, alcohol and domestic abuse were prevalent. I did, however, relate more to the smaller things he was going through. Hanging out with sketchy friends-of-friends, eagerly anticipating the next Harry Potter book, talking excitedly about the next Star Wars with my friends back when I hadn’t realized the prequels were garbage, discovering that girls were actually pretty cool to hang out with, murdering my first homeless person on my eighteenth birthday, the list goes on. There are scenes that seem to have little to no meaning that really, really should’ve been axed, though. There is one scene, for instance, when it looks like Mason is about to enter into some sort of altercation or long-term rivalry with a bully, and I kept expecting it to come back later in that point of his life, but it never did, and the little bully prick never showed his face again. I guess you could argue that this is very much how that situation would play out for some people in real life, I certainly have never had that big of a problem with bullies that I haven’t been able to suppress with expired painkillers by now, but this scene in particular just seems like something they stuck in to make some people nod and say “Oh, yeah, remember that?” If that’s what you’re looking for in a movie, fine, I guess, but I’m personally not a fan of relying on nostalgia for critical and commercial success.
Even when the movie does slow down and get less interesting, as it does once Mason gets into his later teens, I was still able to gravitate towards the characters thanks to the performances. I already mentioned Ellar Coltrane and his fine performance, which, surprisingly, doesn’t appear to be generating much Oscar buzz (Especially considering the massive hard-on that the awards higher-ups have for every other aspect of this movie), but I guess that makes sense when you look at the other premium actors in contention. Most likely making the cut, however are his movie parents, Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, who should easily be in the mix for the big prize come February. Those two were so fucking good that I actually wish that the movie focused more on them and less on Mason. I thought that Ethan Hawke finding his own way in his life and Patricia Arquette going through all the shit she goes through in the movie probably would have amounted to something, well, better.
How was Lorelei Linklater? Well, all I’ll say is it must be nice to be a highly regarded director’s daughter and not have to get jobs through, you know, being a good actor.
Look, I still really, really like this movie. I may even go so far as to call it a great movie that is necessary viewing for film fans. That said, after watching the movie, I stopped and thought, and I realized that not only was it not my favourite movie of the year, but it wasn’t even in my top 15 (More on that later). I watch this movie and I see a great movie that I don’t ever want to watch again on account of it being the length of a Lord of the Rings movie and not as entertaining. I definitely don’t see “one of the greatest films of the decade” as Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian apparently sees.
Also, there’s a line in the movie in which a kid welcomes Mason into a new school by saying “Welcome to the Suck.” This is such a terrible line that I fell to the floor laughing for ten goddamn minutes. What can I say? It helped pass the time.
Overall: Is it the masterpiece that everyone seems to think? I certainly didn’t think so, but judging by the massive acclaim for this movie, you may disagree. In my personal opinion, Boyhood is a highly innovative, must-see movie that gets by on the strength of its performances, and the relatability of the characters.