Boyhood directed Richard Linklater is conceptually a very ambitious and unique film but it is a film that is let down slightly by its content. This certainly isn’t a film that should be over looked but with the issues that it comes with, may not be one that has the last ability of some other films in 2014.
Richard Linklater’s ambitious idea to make a film for twelve to thirteen years using the same actors and to have it constantly evolving each year is something I and many other people haven’t seen before/ever. The whole concept behind this film doesn’t really come into play until you are finally sitting there in the cinema and the first noticeable growth/change in the actors happens. Seeing the child actors beginning to grow up, whether it’s their height or the varying array of hairstyles, the big picture of the film never really sinks in until you are there watching it happen. Once you settle into the though it feels like this is how it has always been for films and should be from now on (obviously I know that isn’t the case and probably won’t be again for some time) but when you see this whole idea start to fall into place it’s almost like an epiphany moment of “Oh, now I get it”. Trailers and interviews are never going to be able to properly put the point across of what watching this experimental film is like, it’s something you have to experience for yourself.
I thought that this whole concept worked great and added so much more to the experience of watching the film. Seeing the family grow, change, deal with the highs and lows and have it always be the same people you’re on this journey with, made it all feel like a much more inclusive reality. When I first heard about what Richard Linklater was doing and what the end goal was for this film, I thought it was more of a gimmick, a quirky selling point rather than an experimental film idea. I was wrong, I mean yes the whole concept certainly helps sell this film to audiences but this is ultimately an idea that works and works better than I was expecting.
However, Boyhood is not without its faults, of which there are a couple. What I think is the films biggest problem is the main actor himself, Ellar Coltrane who plays Mason. It’s unfortunate to say but he is really rough in it, weirdly when he is younger he is a much more convincing and solid actor, it’s when he begins to get older that he becomes difficult to watch and at times believe he is this character. It became distracting at times at just how offbeat he seemed with everyone else on screen. I don’t want to be too harsh on him as he technically grew up acting for this film and having never seen him in anything else I don’t feel I can make a fair overall assessment of his abilities, but in this film he was certainly a let-down for me.
It’s not all bad in terms of performances in the film though, two actors in particular who brought their experience and their reliability where Ethan Hawke who plays the father and Patricia Arquette who plays the mother. Not only where both of these actors continually on point but where completely believable and at times deeper and more interesting characters to follow. The struggle that Arquette’s character goes through in the film is so compelling and she brings such heart to her performance, you really do feel for her character, especially in the tougher moments. Ethan Hawke’s character is much in the same, with both parents being separated from one another it’s really interesting to see the dichotomy between the two parents, how they live, how they parent their children and where they ultimately end up by the end of the film. I was much more intrigued by both of their stories and was clambering to be given more, sadly neither character is given much of suitable wrap up but then it isn’t exactly their film (unfortunately).
What I struggled most with in Boyhood though was Linklater’s writing and his overall plotting of the film. Linklater has no idea how young people talk, their word choice, the inflections they use in certain words, what they generally talk about and now they talk about it. Linklater was almost always completely off. There were times the dialogue was cringe worthy or awkward or just down right bizarre and this only increased when the main character got older. Listening to a 17 year old kid talk existentially about how computers are going to take over our brains and then the world and have him doing it with a straight face the whole time just doesn’t work. This might be part of the reason why the main character in this film never clicked with me; he doesn’t ever really come off as a real person, more a middle aged man’s interpretation of a young person today.
The structuring of the plot in the film was also wonky. There are a lot of scenes in this film that happen where there is no context for them, no reason for them and ultimately no pay off for them. Quite a few times I would be watching a scene happen, expecting it to be leading to a significant moment in the younger characters life, something that might come to define him and then to have nothing happen. The scene would just end and there would be no reference back to it or pay off for what you had just seen. It’s also important to point out that Boyhood isn’t a short film, clocking in at 2 hours and 46 minutes. A lot could have easily been cut from this film making it a more concise story.
Don’t get me wrong though, some of the final decisions that were made for the plot in this film I loved. Boyhood isn’t a happy go lucky American family where it all works out and they don’t have a care in the world. This is a family that goes through some really hard times and don’t always get to take the simple path. Some of the story points in the film certainly made them feel like a more real family, there were things that I and many other people will be able to relate to in this film, Linklater doesn’t patronise the audience with a simplistic, cliché story, he puts this family through some tough challenges and seeing them deal with them is certainly one thing that makes this film an emotional journey.
My opinions on Boyhood are very mixed (as you’ve seen from this review) but I don’t know what it is yet but I still really enjoyed my time with this film, there were some points when I struggled with what I was watching but there was always something on the other side that brought me back around to Linklater’s overall vision. This film is receiving a lot of praise and accolades and some are deserved but I do think we need to look beyond this films conceptual achievements and also looks at it as a piece of cinema, something I think many are forgetting to do.
Would I recommend Boyhood? Absolutely, this film is definitely not without its faults but I still adamantly believe this is a film that everyone should see and experience.