“This is the worst day of my life. I knew this day would come, except why is it happening now? First I get married, have kids, end up with two ex-husbands, go back to school, get my degree, get my masters, send both my kids off to college. What’s next? My own fucking funeral?”
23 years ago, Richard Linklater became an indie film darling when he made Slacker. A sprawling, rambling series of monologues, conversations and observations that loosely wove together as his camera ambled through a day in Austin, Texas. No traditional narrative or plot, no main character to focus on, no beginning, middle or end. Just a series of encounters, with each bleeding into the next.
Since then, he’s been nominated for Oscars with the Before series, made audience pleasing hits like School of Rock, hard sci-fi with A Scanner Darkly, genre bending art fare like the pseudo-documentary, pseudo fiction Fast Food Nation, beloved coming of age cult favourite Dazed and Confused, and even a weird, spiritual sequel to Slacker, the half animated / rotoscoped Waking Life.
All of that is to say, Linklater is far from predictable and pretty difficult to nail down. So when I heard that he had been making a single movie for 12 years, centred around a boy who had aged from six to 18 years old in that time, it kind of made sense. If anyone was going to make a movie that way, of course it was Richard Linklater. As it slowly rolled out around America through festivals over the last six months or so, the reviews have been nothing short of amazing. So between those reviews and my general love of Linklater’s work, I went into Boyhood expecting a lot.
Mason is a six year old boy living in Texas with his mother (Patricia Arquette) and sister Sam (Lorelei Linklater). His father (Ethan Hawke), who has been divorced from his mother for some time, returns to town after a year or two away. As the title would suggest, Mason is technically the main character, but his parents and sister are almost just as prominent.
Over twelve years, Mason goes from wide eyed innocent, to bratty pre-teen, to surly proto-teen, to tortured and misunderstood asshole, to a young man embarking on college and his first steps away from the his mother’s nest. Along the way, Arquette’s character gets a couple of failed relationships, Hawke’s character goes from dead beat, absent dad to grown ass adult, and Mason’s sister gets to parallel a lot of Mason’s story with a female point of view.
All the buzz around this movie has been about the fact that it was filmed over such a long period, and while that’s interesting, it’s also taking some attention away from the fact that it’s actually just a really great movie. The first couple of times it jumped from one scene to the next and I noticed Mason and Sam getting visibly older, I was focused on that. But not for long. Soon, I was too wrapped up in these characters and where their lives were headed to think about any behind the scenes business.
Boyhood is a really great movie, possibly the best movie I’ve seen this year, but it’s not quite the masterpiece some critics would have you believe. There are a few on the nose moments that pulled me out of the story. The most frustrating part is how close to amazing this movie was, and how easy it would have been to avoid these missteps. Awkward lines of dialogue about buying a house that had been foreclosed on, you know, so we know this scene is taking place after the Global Financial Crisis. Like the movie is not so subtly telling us to make sure we view those scenes through 2009 filter, to make sure we really get it. Then there’s the Iraq war veteran telling a story about his platoon never suffering any casualties because they respected the Iraq natives. I totally agree with his sentiment, but it’s just so scripted and unnatural in the midst of a movie that effectively captures natural reality for the vast majority of its running time.
With Boyhood, Linklater found a way to indulge in his sprawling, rambling monologues, conversations and observations, while tricking audiences into thinking they’re watching a much more traditional movie. And while I really, really liked the movie, I was even more impressed by Linklater’s ability to stick to his unique voice and point of view, while figuring out a way to make it a little more accessible for main stream audiences.