Friday, January 2, 2015
Boyhood (a movie review post)
I've given it several days, and I'm still ambivalent as to how I feel about the movie. The best thing I can say is that it's very interesting. It really is. But it's not captivating, so there's no place it couldn't have stopped where you would want to know what's going to happen next. I say that because the movie is also long, nearly three hours, and it felt it. I was ready for it to end well before it got to the end, if you can even call it that, because, really, it just stops. But more on that in a moment.
One of the risks involved with shooting a movie like this is that you end up with kids who can't act, and you certainly see some of this in the film. In fact, Linklater's daughter, Lorelei, plays Mason's older sister, and there are definitely scenes in which she is only capable of nervous laughter. She sort of falls out of the movie as the kids get older, and I have to wonder if part of that is not because she couldn't actually do the acting. Many of the scenes involving Mason as a pre-teen and teen are rather flat due to the lack of ability on the part of the other child actors involved. It's just reciting lines and rather awkward. Fortunately, some of it can be awkward because kids can be really awkward, so it doesn't completely fail.
Patricia Arquette is pretty decent as Mason's mom. She's believable, which I guess is what's important. However, she is also central to my major issue with the movie. Not her, the character. The actual story arc of the movie is hers; Mason just sort of dangles from it. Not to be spoilery (because, really, there's nothing to spoil in this movie even if I told you everything that happened), but the great emotional climax of the movie is her moment at the end when Mason is moving out to go to college and she declares that, with him leaving, all of the great moments of her life are over. All of them except death. You grow up, you get married, you have kids, you get divorced, you raise the kids, and, then, they leave. After that, only death awaits. Mason does not take the moment of his departure seriously enough for her. He does not understand its weight.
But Mason does leave and arrives at college to meet his roommate and the movie ends as they and a couple of girls skip out on freshman orientation. It's not that Mason doesn't change in the movie, because, of course, he grows up, but, really, it is just growing up. There is nothing extraordinary about his life other than the fact that he's the artsy kid from a liberal family growing up in south Texas. I get the feeling that the real purpose of the movie is that Linklater wants us to see how he grew up. That he was that liberal, artsy kid growing up in south Texas, because he did grow up in south Texas. It didn't feel eye-opening or revelatory to me. My wife says it's because I was that same kid (without the experimental earring) growing up in the South. However, I felt no connecting or empathy with the character.
Mason's mostly absent father is played by Ethan Hawke. Now, I am not a fan of Hawke. As far as I'm concerned, he should have stopped acting after Dead Poets Society. In effect, every role he's had since then has been based off of Todd Anderson. Not one time did Hawke give in to that signature deer-caught-in-headlights look in this movie. And he was really good. I mean, he was really good. Maybe, Hawke needs to be allowed to improvise more of his roles, because that's how I understand this movie to have been made: through improvisation. Basically, Linklater gave them a scene and told them to do it. No scripts. Whatever they did, it really worked for Hawke. He was easily the best part of the movie.
So this is one of those situations where most of what I have done is point out the weaknesses in the movie, but, despite those, or, maybe, because of those, I did actually like the movie. As I said, it's interesting. I don't have a desire to see it again, but I am certainly glad I saw it this one time. However, it's not the kind of movie you need to see in the theater. It's not going to lose anything by waiting to see it on DVD.
I do think it gives a mostly accurate representation of what it's like to be a boy in American society, right now. Young Mason really has no ambitions. He wants to play video games, and he gets in trouble a lot for things that look like he's being destructive but are really just because he's curious, like trying to sharpen rocks in the pencil sharpener. His sister, on the other hand, is very driven, at one point expressing her disappointment in only having gotten an A on something rather than an A+. There is a wide divide between the girls and the boys in that way. Mason's mother has gone back to school (and eventually becomes a college professor) so that she can better their lives; his father has gone off to Alaska and spends his 20s chasing his dream of becoming a musician. Mason, by the time he's leaving for college, wants to be a photographer.
All of which brings me back to being ambivalent over the film. I think what Linklater has done here is pretty darn impressive despite the lack of a real story arc or message. Which is not to say that the movie doesn't say anything. I think it says a lot of things, but it doesn't really have an actual point or message to it other than, "Here it is. Here is boyhood." And maybe that's all it's supposed to be, after all. But, then, I did experience that for myself (minus the spray paint, the underage drinking, and the drugs), so it wasn't particularly enlightening for me. In that respect, maybe it's a film that women need to see. My wife certainly got more out of it than I did.