Monday, January 26, 2015

Review: Boyhood

I watched the movie Boyhood over the weekend.

For those not in the know, Boyhood is a film by Richard Linklater, chronicling moments in the life of a boy as he goes from ages six to eighteen, filmed over the span of twelve years.

Reread that, because it can be slightly off-putting to the brain until you realize that yes, they filmed tiny segments of the film across twelve years to accurately show this kid growing up.

It has Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane, and Lorelai Linklater in a rather blatant display of nepotism (kidding!).

I'll admit, I was thrown off by seeing a younger Patricia Arquette, I kept expecting ghosts to show up any minute.

I really wanted to do a long, meaningful review of this movie in the style of the great, classical critics.  I was going to discuss framing, pacing, the difficulty of managing to find a child actor who can maintain a character for twelve flippin' years, and then, after glancing at a few reviews to see what points other people were touching on that I might have missed, I realized that I really can't do it.

This is my review of the movie, and so I need to talk about the stuff that stood out to me.

Across the span of twelve years, our protagonist lives with his sister and mother (the father long-since divorced from the mother, but regularly present during the timeline).  It chronicles things like school, moving, personal relationships, and provides a few important life lessons along the way ("Life doesn't give you bumpers.")

There's a moment towards the end of the movie when two characters are discussing time (needless to say, at least one has ingested a psychedelic mushroom).

"You know how everyone's always saying seize the moment?  I don't know, I'm kind of thinking it's the other way around, you know, like the moment seizes us."

Looking back at the film, I can really appreciate that statement.  The movie doesn't necessarily follow the "boy" through the most important moments of his own life, it focuses a bit more on his being present during important events during the lives of others.  He's present when his mother has a huge fight with a new boyfriend, and at other key moments in his mother's relationships.  He's present when his father is starting a new relationship, even when it's established that his sister has her first "relationship."

There are a few moments that appear focused on the boy (his graduation from high school, for example, or a day at work), but these seem more like moments where we simply see who he is, not what's happening in his life.  We watch the boy go from young and questioning to an emotional teen, already drinking and smoking marijuana before he's even a junior in high school.  He rejects authority and doesn't want to be part of "the system."

But along the way, we see what leads to this.  We see the effect that authority figures in his life had on him.  Why is his hair long?  Because at one point it's all but forcibly shaved short.  Many of the "authority" figures wind up being controlling, abusive, or both, leaving him with only a few positive role models that he meets later in his teenage years.

Except for his father.  Ethan Hawke as the father has some of the best scenes in the entire movie, and left me wanting to spend more time following him around for twelve years.

Is the movie "good?"  It's extremely well-crafted, and it leaves you with a strong connection to the characters.  It's hard not to when they've managed to compress twelve years of life for so many people into such a tight time frame.  There are a few times where it felt that the movie was dragging somewhat, and a few times where I almost expected the movie to deliver a pointless tragedy upon us (which, fortunately, it didn't).  That isn't to say there aren't some extremely dramatic moments, but they aren't as contrived as they could be (a scene at a party with no adult supervision is a good example of what "could" have happened).

The movie also leaves you thinking about the importance different characters place on different values.  For example, the boy's mother (and yes, I'm intentionally not giving their names up, because honestly I don't think the names even really mattered to the film itself) is determined to provide a strong, "standard" family unit throughout the film, even if it leads to some rather negative choices in men.  The father continuously puts off being a serious, responsible adult for a good chunk of the film, and watching his transformation was just as interesting as anything else in the film.

Some moments manage to feel strongly genuine but still leave you wondering why they were included in the film.  A moment where the lead is picked on in a bathroom by bullies, a moment involving a young man with Tourette's, and others feel like filler for the most part, but you realize that these are easily things that happen or appear in a boy's life.

Though I am left wondering if it's really that common for drinking and drug use to happen before a kid turns fifteen in Texas.

The movie is one I recommend seeing, if only because there really aren't anything outside of documentaries that spend that long (twelve. years.) following the same characters or situations around.  It's a superb study in film, and I think that each person who watches it would pull something distinctive away from it.

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