Boyhood – 2014
This was a good movie, but not as good as it thinks it is. I look at Boyhood under two very different lights. First, it is a marvel of technical and artistic achievement. Second, it is an elaborate gimmick. The whole concept of the movie is that it was filmed over the course of twelve years. Directed by Richard Linklater, it started off with very little script, with additions being written every year. It was a character study about a boy as he ages from six to eighteen.
There were four main actors who were involved with the project from beginning to end. There were the divorced parents, Olivia Evans and Mason Evans Sr., played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. Then there were their two children, Mason Jr. and Samantha, played by Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter. Other actors like Marco Perella, Jamie Howard, Andrew Villarreal, Brad Hawkins, and Zoe Graham round out the significant members of the supporting cast.
The plan for the film was, on the one hand, a stroke of genius. We literally see the kids age through their teenage years, meaning that they were clearly not different actors cast for the different ages of the characters. It was really amazing to see. And I can’t help but think about how logistically difficult that must have been. They would have had needed to schedule a few weeks out of every year to get the cast together. The actors would have had to be committed to the long duration of the project, no matter what was happening in their lives, and as we all know, the teenage years are full of infinite challenges and changes. Any number of things could have gone wrong, preventing the movie from being completed as planned, but it didn’t. What if tragedy had struck and one of the child actors had been killed in a car accident? The entire concept of the film’s structure would have been destroyed. But the film was completed on schedule and the result was amazing.
It is interesting to note that they had a production budget of about $200,000 per year. Over the twelve years, that added up to about $2.4 million. When adding other costs involved in filmmaking, the total production budget was $4 million. This was simply incredible, considering the film made approximately $46.4 million. That’s a pretty impressive return!
But for me, where the movie falls a little flat is in its narrative structure. Some call it incredibly intimate, realistic, and personal, and I agree that it has those qualities to some degree. But it also felt like little more than a string of separate events, giving us a character study of the family and its members, but having very little continuity. It seemed to lack a cohesive flow. There was no central conflict, no clear message, no particular point of view. It has also been called a coming of age film, which I think goes without saying. But what was the point? What life lessons did Mason Jr. learn? What was the cathartic event which elevated him from boy to man? There wasn’t one, unless you want to consider his first lover, Sheena, played by Graham, breaking up with him as a catharsis. I don’t believe it was.
The story was a little like watching a movie about my own life. My life has been mostly ordinary. My childhood, like everyone else’s, was peppered with interesting days, formative experiences, and both big and little changes. But my story simply isn’t interesting enough to be made into a movie. And right there, that’s the problem I have with the movie. It did such an incredible job of being realistic, that it became as uninteresting as real life, though I suppose that could be counted as both the film’s strength and its weakness. The film was fifteen minutes shy of the three hour mark. And in all that time, there was very little conflict, Only experiences that shaped Mason’s personality. So the end of the movie lacked a climax, which was vaguely unsatisfying.
While it was interesting to watch the children age from pre-teens to adults, it was easy to forget that the adult actors were getting older as well. Critics applaud both Arquette and Hawke’s performances as award-worthy. I particularly liked Arquette, and the more I think about it, she really did a fantastic job. There are two of her scenes which stand out to me. The first is the one in which Olivia’s second husband beat her, and the second is the one in which Olivia sees her youngest child leaving for college, and she is depressed because her life didn’t turn out as she had expected. In these scenes, she got to really use the skills of her profession, and she did a great job.
The movie was good, and worth watching. It was an amazing concept that took incredible commitment to pull off successfully. It worked, and worked well. You just have to get past the gimmicky aspect of the film. I guess what it really comes down to is that if this movie had been filmed like any other movie, where different actors were cast for different stages in the character’s lives, it wouldn’t have gotten nearly so much critical acclaim. Without the gimmick, it just wasn’t that interesting a film. That being said, I have to be fair. I’ll admit that the gimmick worked… for the most part.