Saturday, January 10, 2015

Boyhood is a horribly depressing film; a film with an amazing concept that fails to deliver in every regard. Shot over the course of twelve years, we get to follow a boy as he becomes a man. The movie begins with him as a six-year-old and culminates when he begins college. But while there is all the potential in the world for an amazing statement on childhood and growing up, we end with a curiously cold and detached movie. A film that never gets into the head of its protagonist and which simply feels like it’s going through the motions.

It’s kind of the polar opposite of Linklater’s Before movies. In those films, we really feel like we get to know the characters. We feel close to them. But I didn’t feel that here. Everything felt very facile. Maybe the Before movies benefit from having their characters locked down for each film. We get to spend a single day with them - you could call it ‘quality time’. But here a single year can pass in the course of one ten minute scene. It just isn’t particularly satisfying. Children change at an enormous pace, but because the film is basically a highlight reel, all we really notice is the growing body and the different haircuts.

Forget about this being anything like Michael Apted’s Up series. You’re not going to have a fillet mignon to sink your teeth into. You’re not going to get into the child’s head and hear his hopes and dreams. Instead you’re going to get a pack of Doritos to nibble on. And it’s one of those massive packs that when you open it, it’s mostly filled with air.

We’re told at the beginning, when Mason is a young child and just starting school, that he spends all his time staring out of the window, hinting that he’s something of dreamer. But we never see this. I don’t want to be told that Mason’s a dreamer. I want to see it. Children and teenagers, contrary to some of Hollywood’s precocious examples, aren’t really very good at expressing themselves verbally. The most interesting thing about them is their inner life. This is something that is usually best captured visually. But this is a meat and potatoes kind of film. It’s incredibly unlyrical.

Not that the dialogue is anything to get excited about. Mason mumbles and grumbles but aside from the odd moment here and there everything is purely functional. There’s a fairly insightful scene when Mason bemoans our collective addiction to cell phones and how we view everything through a screen, but this kind of commentary is hardly the norm. Not that I really want the film to be three hours of social commentary. But I do want to feel close to the lead, which I didn’t at all.

Even more disappointing than Mason’s role is that of his mother, played by Patricia Arquette. Her role must be one of the most thankless female roles in recent years. All she seems to do is sit at a table and pay bills. Plus Arquette’s acting is mediocre at best. She’s cold, detached, humourless and unemotive. In one scene she encourages a Mexican laborer to go back to school. When years later they encounter one another and he tells her that her words inspired him, you’d think that she was listening to the weather forecast.

It kind of takes the piss that Ethan Hawke gets a much better role as the kids’ father. Separated from their mother, he just gets to sweep in every now and again and hang out with them. He can be the ‘cool’ one. He can have fun with them and take them bowling, to baseball games and go camping. Meanwhile I don’t recall one, single scene where the mother has any fun with her kids. Almost all of her scenes are completely joyless. I understand that she has the day-to-day hard work and drudgery to deal with, while the father can just saunter in, but the mother is a tiresome presence. She’s a grouch, a nag and, in the end, hysterical.

When Mason finally goes to college, and Mason’s mother is confronted with an empty nest, she has a kind of meltdown. She complains about time going so fast and having nothing to show for herself. She also says that in another forty years she’ll be dead. It’s a hysterical reaction but it feels authentic enough. It’s a big thing when your kids move away. It’s normal to go through a crisis. But again I kind of feel like the film is doing mothers a disservice. The movie falls into the cliches of women being hysterical and unreasonable, and of them being victims.

Seeing as Mason’s mother is cast as a victim here, she gets to marry not one but two alcoholics. The first one provides some of the only drama in the movie. At first he seems like a decent guy, but then he begins to indulge in some secret drinking and all of a sudden we have a monster on our hands. Again, because we’re in such a rush to get through the years, it seems like he turns into an alcoholic overnight. It also doesn’t help that the stepfather’s acting is ridiculously broad. He’s a leering, gurning, obnoxious buffoon. But at least, when he’s on the screen, something happens.

There’s one scene where the stepfather forces Mason to have his long locks shorn off. It’s pretty brutal in its assholery. But how does Mason’s mother react to this hair rape of her young son? She just kind of says...sorry. Oh, and for a couple of years when Mason’s stepfather is being a gigantic dickhead, she’s sitting at the table, paying bills. She seems to spend years at a time in a coma.

Mason’s mother eventually leaves this tosser when he begins beating her and we have the excitement of her rescuing her children from his clutches, but this story arc ends up leaving you with more questions than answers. The stepfather had kids of his own. What happened to Mason’s step brother and step sister? Does he keep in any sort of contact? Does he ever see them again?

The second asshole alcoholic stepfather is far more rudimentary. Mason’s mother marries some soldier. In his very first scene I thought that something was wrong with him. He’s been in the Iraq war and he seems to be hiding some kind of deep trauma. But Mason’s mother marries him and before you know it, he’s questioning Mason’s sexuality and he’s supping from cans of beer. But then as quickly as he appears, he’s gone. Why exactly did Mason’s mother leave him? He was turning into a bit of a morose prick, but he hadn’t done anything like the first stepfather. But once again he’s neatly swept under the rug.

Of course the talk now is of Boyhood vying for Oscars. If it did, it wouldn’t be a crime on the scale of Crash and Forrest Gump, but it’s most certainly not a worthy movie. Having the balls to film a movie over the span of twelve years is not enough to warrant critical acclaim. A great concept is nothing without great execution. The idea here is superb but the delivery is sorely lacking. No drama, no emotion, no insight, poor acting and ordinary writing are a recipe for a mediocre movie, which, sadly, this is.

You Might Also Like