The Oscars are just around the corner, so I knew I had to talk about one of the front runners for most of the major categories, Boyhood. Critically, this film has been one of the most unanimously praised of the year, with 98% approval on Rotten Tomatoes and numerous Academy Award nominations. On the other hand, quite a few fans and YouTube personalities have had divergent reactions, dinging the film for its languid pacing and disjointed story structure. Truly, this is a movie that's production background is more interesting than the actual film. It's almost redundant to say, as it's been the focus of its entire promotional campaign, but Boyhood was shot across a twelve year period, tracking the growth of a fictional family using the same actors throughout the shoot. For that reason alone this film is worth checking out, but if you're a little impatient I think there are some things to be aware of.
There's no way I can really do a plot summary of this film... as that would require this film to have a plot. What's truly unique and memorable about Boyhood is that, like its main character who becomes an aspiring photographer, it's all a series of snapshots that give the audience glimpses into a boy's life. As such, it all comes down to the collection of moments that director Richard Linklater decided to include in order to give us the overall impression of growing up. Like many have already observed, this film does a fantastic job of portraying the mundane normality of life as we recognize it. Some would actually say that it does so to a fault, as it portrays things that aren't necessarily theatrical in nature. While I certainly see their point, I found most of the scenes pretty compelling despite their lack of intensity or dramatic weight.
Not all of this can be credited to the director, even taking into account his revolutionary and gutsy approach to filming Boyhood. None of this would work if he didn't get such a charismatic and natural actor as Ethan Hawke to play Mason Sr., the titular boy's father. He does a great job of evolving his performance to reflect the different stages of life his character finds himself, providing ironic and slightly tragic insights into his relationship with his ex-wife, played by Patricia Arquette. While I definitely think Hawke's performance was worthy of the nomination he received, I was actually underwhelmed by Patrica Arquette in this film. She's easily the front-runner for Best Supporting Actress, but I can't think of a moment where I was genuinely impressed by what she was doing on screen. Mostly I found her character to be kind of bland, without much personality or relatability until the very last scene. I'm sure many will be impressed with what she brought to the part, but I thought another actress could have made her character a more meaty, and interesting part of the film.
Technically this film is well made, but nothing called my attention more than the editing. It would have been easy for the movie to call attention to the times that it switches from one year to the next with subtitles, but instead it lets the audience piece these fragments together and work out where Mason Jr. is in his development. Linklater recreates the major events of each year depicted with uncanny precision, even if some moments are a bit heavy-handed. He uses these moments to not only capture a period of time, but also to allow the viewer to put themselves in the situations these characters find themselves. I think your enjoyment of this film will directly correlate to the strength of your memory over the past twelve years, as it uses the cultural milestones to not only set the stage, but occasionally to develop character as well.
Despite some of the criticism, I don't think I was ever bored during this film - even if it was a little longer than I would have liked. In fact, I honestly don't feel passionately about this film one way or the other. There were parts that were a little pretentious, as well as moments that I found just plain ridiculous, but overall it was a very enjoyable film that was well-acted and brilliantly conceived. It's definitely a landmark for its ambition more so than what it actually says about boyhood, and the final lines of dialogue are so clunky and obvious that it almost turned me against the film entirely. Having said that, it probably deserves most of the Oscar nominations it received, and after reflecting on this film and remembering all of the things I liked about it, I've decided to give this a solid three stars.
BOYHOOD is rated R for language including sexual references, and for teen drug and alcohol use
** What did you think of Boyhood? Was it an overrated snoozefest, or an "epic masterpiece"? Let me know in the comments below, and don't forget to like us on Facebook! **