Monday, September 8, 2014

Growing Up in Boyhood

     Boyhood is a successful experiment in film making, but it's an experiment that left me thinking it was an impressive attempt rather than an incredibly entertaining time at the movies. It was shot over 12 years (each year the cast and crew would gather for a couple weeks to shoot new material) and focuses on a boy growing into a man, particularly all of the trials and tribulations of young adulthood: cute girls, alcoholic parental figures, and a questioning of what life even means. It's contemplative and mixed with scenes of nervous tension, humor and slow-build meditation. It's currently (by far) the best reviewed film of the year, but Boyhood didn't affect me the way I had hoped. It's good but overlong and not surprising enough.
       Director Richard Linklater has performed a similar experiment before with the "Before" series (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight), a wonderful trilogy shot once every 10ish years with the same actors dealing with their serendipitous relationship over that time period. To me, that story was more successful. Boyhood is about Mason, a young Texas child with a loving, trying-hard mom who has bad choices when picking men. Mason and his sister's biological dad (who is back in the area after abondoneing the family a couple years ago) is also back in the picture, and he's played with a mild charm by Ethan Hawke, buying them gifts and winking at the kids when he pisses off their mom (his ex-wife). The movie jumps ahead in time fairly often (you can usually tell because Mason's hairstyle is different), showcasing the progression of the characters through their lives. And like any of our lives, there are times of excitement and times of boredom--or in the case of the revolving door of alcoholic father figures, times of tension and terror.
     Like a Malick film, there are moments in Boyhood of complete beauty and profound realizations about the human condition. But with a run time of nearly three hours (and who can blame the film's crew: this was quite a committed undertaking), there are too many minutes between each one. It's no fault of new actor Ellar Coltrane: his performance is just as impressive as watching him go from boy to a man in front of our eyes on the cinema screen. It's not hard to watch Boyhood and have some of the scenes relate to your own life, regardless of the upbringing you've had.
     Life is made up of mundane moments, and Boyhood contains plenty of them. That's not exactly the problem. The issue is that the character of Mason barely registers major live events, or they aren't shown in the film at all. Death and love and and sex and sadness define each and every human, but we barely get any of that with Mason. Mason's mom (Patricia Arquette) chooses terrible husbands, but these scary experiences don't really seem to define Mason in any lasting way (or maybe they will in the life Mason leads after the credits role, but that doesn't help us during the movie's run time). I'm sure they would have affected me. Boyhood is incredibly well-meaning, a really cool experiment in film making, but it falls short of being a truly great film.     (B)

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