Boyhood (2014) Directed by Richard Linklater

So, what's this then? A confession. I hadn't watched Boyhood till last week. Probably the most talked about film of 2014 (or was that American Sniper?) So, anyway, this is now. What can I say? In 2015 the thought of going to see art-house/artistic, realistic movies fills me with dread. In 2015 I want my cinema to be larger than life and contain some elements that are pure escapism. That doesn't mean it can't be political or deal with real issues. This may sound infantile, but I've probably been worn down by the art-house. I started watching left-field cinema since my early teens. It doesn't mean I still don't have favourite movies from the art-house – I'd say most of my faves probably are. But I can't take, well meaning, liberal, deep, quirky etc anymore. I paid my dues. Yet, here's my rub. With music, I've remained singularly and stubbornly indie. Can't stand the machinations of the mainstream. Yet, the mainstream is kicking serious indie ass (or at least it is if one is judging by the media coverage in Finland). With film, give me Avengers Assembled over Boyhood anytime.

the young Mason
Despite that, I enjoyed Boyhood, it was good. But lite. And here's the thing, Linklater movies are lite, and middle class, and very white. And they are fantasy alluding to realism (isn't all cinema I guess?) The approach is the thing. We see the kid grow up on film. Boyhood was shot over so many years (you know the story). You can watch Patricia Arquette at the start of the film as recognized film star, go through to her heavy TV period and re-emerge as film star again at the end. Yes, real life events have changed these people, and the physical change we see over the years is only the most visual aspect. Boyhood cleverly gives a different shape to prevailing attitudes of the characters over time, and not just those of the children. But Boyhood also has problems. There's the sense that much was made up on the run. Certain characters are too easily telegraphed as 'going to turn out a bad person', which takes some of the surprise away from Boyhood.

the older Mason
Now that I'm a parent, I can find movies about kids very moving. But Boyhood didn't have the tear-inducing-emotional-heavyweight-pull of, say, Interstellar. It's no contest to compare the two movies emotional stakes. Both films deal with the passage of time and how time affects change.  In Boyhood, we wonder if Mason is making the right choices as he gets older and if he will ever truly engage with anyone or if he'll forever remain a semi-airhead. In Interstellar you wonder if Matthew Mcconaughey's Cooper will ever see his daughter Murph again as he tries to save humanity and Murph waits on a promise that she'll be reunited with her father. In one film Mcconaughey cries as he watches his family grow up from long distance, so we cry with him. In Boyhood, Ethan Hawke as Mason's father is sly and not always reliable. Boyhood, despite showing us much of someone's early life didn't engage me much in caring for that life. Which was strange. It also doesn't have big, fuck-off spaceships to make Mason's trip easier for me to digest. Yes, Boyhood is good but also strangely cold, the method here supersedes the heart.

the even older Mason
This was my second time watching Boyhood. I think I mentioned it in some other review here the first time I saw it – without Nick. The film really tugged at my heartstrings for many reasons. For me it is both a home-coming and a breath of fresh air. I will probably want to watch this movie a couple more times during my life, as I watch my own child grow. I am a fan of most of Linklater's work – especially the Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke material (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight), which also expands over time and wants to enter into dialogue with 'reality' in a way that most films never attempt. In Boyhood cinema's relationship to time becomes even more central. The film is one of the very few movies that has been filmed on and off for 12 years, so that it shows little children grow into young adults and younger adults grow into older adults. It reveals human change unapologetically and with a good sense of humour. The storytelling is loose  – it feels like the camera just wanders in (like a lost drone?) and then departs without worrying about 'complete narratives'. We are never explained why the characters make certain choices; nothing appears especially justified or totally wrong. Kind of life-like it that sense too.

Patricia Arquette in Boyhood
For me Patricia Arquette is the biggest star in Boyhood. She embodies the change that a woman goes through over the time that she brings up her children, gets the education and work that she wants, figures her way through relationships, violence, poverty, neglect, passion and love. Her physical ageing on screen is something rare and very beautiful to witness – as a viewer I am fooled to think that this is not acting, just existing. If I would be pressed to criticize, I'd say that Arquette's role as Olivia remains paper thin or a little too mysterious overall. Is this the male gaze preferring to keep its distance? Or is it just that this is how a child sees their parent? I don't know.

Arquette and Coltrane in Boyhood
The true miracle of Boyhood is the little son Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his incredible ease at being on screen through the toughest years of growing up. The relationships that Mason has with his parents, his sister and later with his girlfriend appear real in every sense. Maybe I am watching this through some rosy mom-glasses, but Boyhood fills me with hope. It also makes me momentarily and acutely realize how very fleeting this time as a parent of a small child is. My biggest wish is to see my child grow up and one day be the mother who gets to cry over-dramatically in a spout of separation anxiety when the said child is finished with his boyhood and ready to move on. Oh and did I forget Ethan Hawke? He is hilarious and familiar feeling as the father in Boyhood. Good good good.

Hawke and Coltrane in Boyhood


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