Boyhood (2014)





RB score:  8/10


Much has been written, and the critic ranks salivating, over the real time filming and aging of the entire cast. It is a remarkable technique. Because the children are so young when filming starts, we have a beautiful platform on which to observe how their acting skills contribute more to the picture as they get older. It’s more than a technique, it’s probably the single most brilliant element of this movie as a very subtle yet effective reinforcement of how kids are first a blank reflection of their parents and then grow to become individuals in their own right.

Mom Olivia, and Dad Mason, played by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette similarly start out the movie where we see much more of their screen presence and then over time began to appear in less screen time as the lives of their children Mason Jr. and Samantha, figure more prominently in the story.  It’s a story without any real plot, and no real beginning or end either.  This is not to imply that the scenes are bland; far from it.It’s riveting enough that most viewers may not even notice the almost 3 hours running time.  And you’ll find yourself wishing for another chapter.

Certainly it’s one of those recognized cinematic accomplishments where you won’t get the sense from reading the summary that it‘s something you should rush out to see. The bland, Hallmark like cover showing the cute little kid laying on the grass, also gives zero insight into the movie’s strengths. It is a whole lot of blank canvas that director and writer Linklater gives the viewer on which to paint.  Ellar Coltrane as Mason, through whose eyes the movie develops, delivers a somewhat passive performance, providing yet another canvas for the viewer.

Hawke gives a skilled, Oscar worthy performance as the sometimes there, sometimes absent Dad.  The actor benefits from being able to showcase the nicely detailed development of his character.  However it is Patricia Arquette who really carries the film with her performance, always struggling and always focused on doing right by her kids.  We are drawn closer to her character yet we have almost no window into her thoughts and feelings.  Linklater never tells us the reasons for Olivia’s bad men choices, and Arquette’s nuanced performance paves the way for numerous interpretations, or judgments.

The character of Olivia provides a key moment of directorial brilliance that occurs in about one second of film, when we see Olivia’s third husband sitting on the front porch of their home, waiting for Mason to come home.  In that second the viewer sees “CORRECTIONS” emblazoned on the back of Jim’s shirt. I will bet MY house that you are supposed to realize, if you didn’t already, that Olivia trades living in one man’s prison, for another, as a pattern in her life.  She has to move several times while her kids are in grade school, uprooting them and incurring much resentment, but always with the intent of seeking a better life for the family. Despite her determination in going to school at night and eventually landing a stable career as a teacher, you never get the sense that Olivia is really fulfilled by any of her accomplishments other than how she is able to provide for Mason and Samantha.

What surprises me most about the critic reaction to “Boyhood” is how many of them have grown to detest romcoms for being formulaic; I find most “coming of age” movies to be much more rigidly formulaic than most romcoms. Yet critics tend to adore them.  One of the few weaknesses is the same tired coming of age formula used in “Boyhood.”   It would be nice to see something on screen where it isn’t part of the formula that every kid experiences sex, alcohol or drugs or all three by the time they are 15. Many do, many don’t.  At least with this movie, the specific events are less the main story than they are more of a backdrop for the often gripping exploration of human connections. There are a couple of overly specific scenes that should have been edited out, but on the whole the vehicle really works.

8/10 for some minor quibbles I have.  “Boyhood” is now available on DVD; see it before Oscar night and let’s have a conversation.