Boyhood (contains some spoilers that in no way will change the movie for you)
Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, & Ethan Hawke
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Time: 2 hr 42 min
Boyhood is a movie I have wanted to see since the minute I heard about it. It has been billed as one of the best films of the year, and director Richard Linklater’s only real shot at winning an Oscar for directing. Linklater’s idea of filming this story over 11 years so he could actually use the same actors was inventive and incredibly brave. It currently holds a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes which is usually only reserved for classics, and slate.com is already calling for it to be nominated by the Academy for Best Film. Richard Roeper gave the film an A+ and called it one of the greatest films he has ever seen. Everyone I know who has seen this film has called it superb. There apparently was a woman who was crying in the back of the theater that I saw it in. The Director has flown under the radar of most movie goers, even though he has directed such films as Dazed & Confused, Fast Food Nation, A Scanner Darkly, and the Before Sunrise trilogy. I have enjoyed many of his films and always look forward to seeing them when they come out.
With all that being said, I did not enjoy this film at all. I can vaguely see why people like it, but I just don’t get it. I am going to split my review into two parts, story and character.
The story is pretty good, it’s the basic story of a child growing up with parents who are far too young and mature to make good decisions and how it affects him in his life. The boy grows up in Texas and becomes and artist in a culture that is not very open for the alternative types. He has multiple step fathers whom he does not get along with, and an absentee father whom he adores. His mother is a mess, jumping from one man to another, all the while dragging her kids through her chaotic life. He has a barely there relationship with a sister who at best tolerates him. None of this is groundbreaking story telling, but it does move the movie along. The interesting part is that Linklater was able to use all the same actors by filming the movie over 11 years. You get to see the actors mature along with their characters. It is an interesting take on a story that has been told countless times.
Now onto the characters. This is where the film falls flat on its face. The characters are awful, and some of the acting is downright painful. The main character of Mason Jr., played by Ellar Coltrane is by far one of the least sympathetic protagonists I have seen in a long time. While Mason Jr. did not have a perfect life his life wasn’t so hard that is should cause him to walk through every scene mumbling with his tail between his legs. He reminded me of all that bad characteristics of Mitch Kramer from Dazed and Confused without any of the redeeming qualities. His winy malcontent attitude made me root against him, so much so that when his girlfriend cheats on him with the lacrosse player I said “no shit”. I couldn’t stand people like this growing up, can’t stand them now, and really don’t like watching movies about them.
His sister was another character I had no patience for. She didn’t do anything terrible throughout the film, she just really didn’t do anything. Her apathy towards her brother was bothersome and as a character and an actress she didn’t add anything to the story line. Her main function was to nag her mother and blame her brother for things. Understanding that she was cast at 9 years old, it would be hard to tell if she could ever mature into a good actress, but since the director cast his own daughter in the role he does not get any leeway. She came off as a constant eye roll and had no depth of character or story.
My least favorite character was Olivia the mother played by Patricia Arquette. To be fair I have only enjoyed two films that Patricia Arquette has been in, Fast Food Nation and True Romance. I generally dislike her as an actress, I tend to find her acting forced and her voice is like nails on a chalk board. In this instance it wasn’t her acting that was the problem, (I think she did a good job), it was the character that was the problem. Normally I would feel bad for a single mom who was struggling to raise two kids, but in this case I didn’t. The majority of the problems the family faced were because of the mother’s horrible choices, again I could forgive that, but in so many scenes she took it out on the children as if they should feel sorry that she made these horrible decisions. In one scene she yells at her daughter because her daughter is upset that she was uprooted overnight and had to wear dirty clothes to a new school. All of this was because the mother fled an abusive relationship, but in turn attempted to make her daughter feel guilty for being upset. She had no empathy as a character yet demanded sympathy and support from everyone. Absolutely painful to watch.
The only character I did enjoy was Ethan Hawke, probably because of how superficial his character was. It’s not hard to like an absentee father who shows up every 30 or so minutes and gets to be the fun character. But even though he was fun I was never rooting for his character or hoping that everything worked out.
As I said previously I did not enjoy this film, it was a struggle for me to get through, and I found myself constantly checking my watch in the last hour. I think if you have raised kids the film probably is more sentimental and means something to you, but since I haven’t none of those emotions came through. I found the film poorly acted, with unsympathetic characters that I never became emotionally invested in. I know it is supposed to be one of the best films out there, and some people say top 10 of all time, but I could not disagree more. Comparing this film to films like The Godfather, Citizen Kane, and Casablanca is foolish. There has been a slow growing backlash from some critics about the amount of praise that has been thrown at this movie, and I agree with them. LA Times Critic Kenneth Turan wrote that the film’s “animating idea is more interesting than its actual satisfactions”, and I completely agree. The story is good, and the way it was shot is very intriguing, but the film itself leaves much to be desired. Throughout my life I have seen better films, and I have seen better films this year.
Grade: F (not even a rental)