Written & directed by Richard Linklater
Director Richard Linklater filmed the same actors over a period of almost twelve years to create “Boyhood,” the ambitious family saga following one boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane) over a period from ages 5 to 18. Before seeing the film, I was afraid that this exceptional gimmick may have been the only reason “Boyhood” has been getting so much significant award season attention (including five key Golden Globe nominations and huge Oscar buzz). Then I saw it…and, unfortunately, my fears weren’t terribly misplaced.
Mason is a normal boy who enjoys video games and fighting with his big sister, Samantha (played by Linklater’s daughter, Lorelai). Their single mother (Patricia Arquette) struggles to put food on the table, and their estranged father (Ethan Hawke) has been traveling in his GTO and trying to start a band. As Mason grows up, he watches as two alcoholic step-fathers (Marco Perella and Brad Hawkins) marry his mother; he sees his dad every once in a while; and he tries to figure out who he is. He dates, he drinks, he parties, he rebels. You know because you’ve seen movies with teenage boys before. Regrettably, this characterization isn’t that much different.
I wish Linklater hadn’t made Mason so stereotypical. As Mason ages, we see him engage in the same rebellious acts that on-screen high schoolers always engage in. We see him become annoyingly angsty/awkward as f*ck. Don’t forget, Linklater brought us the one-dimensional high-school characters in “Dazed and Confused,” so he has experience creating these flat characters. But not all teenage boys act like Mason. I know because I was once a teenage boy. And so often in films we see single mothers, alcoholic step-fathers, and heroic, every-other-weekend biological dads who say just the right things at just the right moments. The sad truth is, if Linklater had shown a drama-free, realistic portrait of a boy, nobody would want to watch it. So he dipped into age-old formulas instead. His script seems to be only a recycled hodge-podge of his “Before” trilogy. It seems like Linklater has run out of existential nonsense to talk about. It’s not that I don’t respect his ambition. I do. Shooting for twelve years is a significant achievement, something that has never been done. Plus, it takes major guts to commit for something for that long and assume everybody will stick with it. But it seems, unfortunately, that “Boyhood” is only being rewarded for its efforts. The finished product is not award-worthy. For one, Coltrane isn’t a great actor. Amateur films are torture for me to watch, and his acting seems like it was pulled straight from a high-school film class project. He actually got worse with age – but I could see where Linklater saw potential in the young boy. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, both nominated for Golden Globes, give good performances – but “good” is about as far as I would go. Hawke was much better in the “Before” films, but never got any major nominations for those. And Mason’s kid friends are hell to watch. I feel embarrassed for them, really.
I’m sorry if this rant screams in the face of all you have heard about the movie thus far (like the New York Times calling it the movie of the century…really?), but these are my thoughts. Overall, I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed that a truly transcendent gimmick didn’t produce the results that I had hoped it would. I’m disappointed that Linklater made Mason into a stereotype and that he reused motifs from his better movies. And I’m disappointed that the world, including award voters, are eating it up and praising Linklater’s momentous effort regardless of the end result. In reality, it’s all pretty underwhelming. But “A” for effort, I guess.