Like a lot of people, I was instantly interested in Boyhood. Richard Linklater has a strong track record of engaging, creative, surprising films and the sheer ambition of this one was enough to suck me in.
In the internet age, this is common. We are intrigued by films long before the projector starts running. This is why most of us could never be film critics – the goal of objectivity is too far beyond our reach. We go see these movies because we want to see them. We want to like them.
I loved this movie. Even though it’s not very good.
Two problems reveal themselves over and over in the film – acting and structure. I think the dialogue felt fake. The “campout” scene in particular had the pacing and delivery of a church youth group sketch. Structurally, Boyhood has a hero gap. We don’t know who the hero is. As much as we want Mason Jr. to be the hero of the film, he isn’t. He’s a roving camera – a sponge – and we’re watching the whole time waiting for that one person who’ll step in and impact Mason’s life. This is the sort of hero narrative that we’ve come to know and expect from movies and it wasn’t in Boyhood.
So why did I love it? Because none of that stuff matters.
Linklater’s movie proves that when you care about a character, you’ll follow that character anywhere – through bad dialogue, through failed relationships one after the other, even through a movie where nothing really happens as we’re conditioned to expect. It also proves that we don’t have to build movies around movie stars. Linklater has Ellar Coltrane portray Mason so painfully honest that in moments, the movie resounds more like a documentary than a fiction narrative.
There are a few other things to learn, too.
Boyhood also reminds us of how powerful music can be. Watch it again and see how many of the music cues do more than just set a tone. In almost every “transition” between years, a song clues us in. Those song placements do more than set a time. They remind us of a feeling – music is a portrait of the past.
Lastly, the role of Ethan Hawke’s character cannot be understated. The real growth in this movie comes in the life of Mason Sr., of all people. And I was reminded over and over again just how skilled Ethan Hawke is at making us care about him and pull for him – whether he’s winning at life or not.
Mason Jr.’s life isn’t like a movie. Mine wasn’t. And yours wasn’t either. Boyhood shows us that each and every story being lived out is plenty compelling and difficult and dramatic enough without Hollywood turning into something fake and plastic,