Between the imaginative “pew pew pew” laser battles of Guardians of the Galaxy last week, the constant reminders of most of our awkward childhood moments in Boyhood this week, and the nostalgia alarm going off full force with Ninja Turtles next week, it appears as if Hollywood is aggressively targeting 18-35 year olds like we’re part of a demographic or something…? Listen man, we’re not part of your system! [hangs up Guardians of the Galaxy poster] You can’t just like, think we’ll go spend money on all this crap because they remind us of fun things from our childhoods! [downloads Super Punch-Out on Wii-U Virtual Console] We’re like, actual people, man! Not just a generic group of sheep like you business fat cats think we are…! [uses Michelangelo bath pouf, an item I actually spent $2 on at Wal-Mart for some reason] We’re not a hive mind of pointless references! [quotes Simpsons jokes on nearly every comment thread I come across]
If you’ve heard of Boyhood, you’ve heard of its plot/gimmick. If you haven’t heard of it, well, I’ll explain it to you right now. Boyhood is a film that notable scattered filmmaker Richard Linklater shot over the course of twelve years, from actor Ellar Coltrane’s age of six until (if you can’t do the math on your own) he turns eighteen. It highlights all the moments from his (character’s) (made-up) (slightly cliché) childhood that formulate something of an interesting character study. Or at least the most genuine coming-of-age character progression you have ever seen. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette play his parents, to which you also see age over twelve years, but with much less impressiveness. Hawke grows a mustache, though! And Arquette fluctuates her weight!
Simply on a cool “I can’t believe they actually pulled this off” level, Boyhood is incredible. It is no doubt amazing that they managed to shoot this film over twelve years, and managed to keep all the cast and crew in tact during that time. As a sheer gimmick, Boyhood is phenomenal. It’s like watching the most sophisticated time-lapse video ever created.
But then when you think about the story being told, it starts to lose a few points in my book. Basically, there is no story. Unless you count the story of life, man! (which I don’t) The plot of the film is the same as the gimmick: watch a normal kid grow up over twelve years, and bask in the averageness of relatable, common life occurrences! Well, I’d just like to preface the rest of this right now by saying that I didn’t think this movie was bad by any means. Merely just… …uh… …humdrum? Yeah, humdrum seems like a good word for it. But at least it wasn’t humdrum in the same boring way The Tree of Life was.
Throughout the course of the film, you see little one-minute fragments of his life. In one scene you watch him have his first beer. Then in another scene you watch him get a note from a girl. In another you see him get bullied in a school bathroom (kind of). None of it is elaborated on specifically, but all of it together is supposed to form some giant puzzle that’s been put together to show you how this kid came to be who he is. Except he ends up just being a normal guy. So, like, what’s the real point? That we all end up normal? That might be true, but why bother filming that? Boyhood was like We Need to Talk About Kevin, only it lacked the interesting plot twist about him being a murderous psychopath.
Rather than be a well constructed story, Boyhood is more like a bullet-pointed list about the things most kids go through in their childhood. Granted, this specifically catered more towards the split-up parent/angry stepdad crowd, but there are plenty of shared life experiences that most 20 or 30-something dudes probably experienced in one way or another (ogling lingerie magazines, starting at a new school, dressing really stupidly in high school). But considering I had a fully functional set of parents (thus, no stepdads), I never moved anywhere, didn’t go to parties, and girls didn’t give me the time of day in my “boyhood”, I just never fully connected to the character. I mean, I understood everything that was happening, but I just didn’t have the emotional reaction to anything like I thought I would. It felt more like I was watching a distant movie character growing up than a real person, which if you want to be a jerk, you can point out the obvious: of course I was watching a movie character. But obviously Linklater was trying to make it a relatable real-ish person. My childhood was just too introverted and Gollum-like for me to get weepy eyed about anything here. The biggest parallel between Coltrane and I would probably be playing video games instead of doing homework.
So you can chalk a lot of my criticism towards this film in the fact that I personally didn’t connect to it, and that I got more choked up during scenes in Guardians of the Galaxy than I did anywhere here, but I mean, just at its core it’s a flawed project. It has nothing to tell but the generalities of life. And at 2 hours 45 minutes, it takes its sweet time to do so. Have you ever sat through a 2 hour 45 minute power point presentation? That’s kind of what this was like. Granted it was more entertaining than the previous sentence would imply, but I’m just trying to say that Boyhood is more of a brilliant concept that was actually executed to completion, than it is a well thought-out, fully cognitive narrative about something worth spending nearly three hours of your time watching. I guess I’m being a little cynical in judging it on its face value. However I will say again, despite its lack of an interesting plot, it still managed to keep me entertained for its entire duration. So that’s a pretty big compliment. But it’s no Hoop Dreams.
As an exercise in gimmick filmmaking that we should all praise the director for actually sticking to and completing, and creating something on a scope to which we have never seen before, thus encouraging other filmmakers to perhaps try to do future projects that are this ambitiously different in concept – 9 out of 10
As, like, an actual movie with a plot and characters that we have to look at critically – 7 out of 10