Movie Review

BOYHOOD by Richard Linklater (2014)

August 8, 2014

This material contains iconoclast content critical of sacred cows. However, the opinions expressed here are just personal observations of mine, AND saying something does not make it so.


After reading rave rewiews of the latest Richard Linklater film BOYHOOD which suggest a must-see ground-breaking cinematic event, I spent Sunday in two sell-out lines and finally made it in. This review is motivated by the overwhelming and pretty much uniformly fawning praise which I find unhinging. I wanted it to be a documentary, it sounded like documentary style, something real, not just a writer's concocted story using well worn familiar actors. I went in hoping that it wouldn't matter that it was only a pseudo-documentary. It did matter.


I liked earlier Linklater films SLACKER (1991) and DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993) for audacious, plotless form and zeitgeist-real texture which he delivers with abundant talent. WAKING LIFE (2001) introduced a technique that drew animation as real life along with content that provided antithesis to conventional American taste for movies loaded with sex, violence and sentimentality. It followed 12 years after an also transformational film by Steven Soderbergh, SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE (1989), an independent film with again non-Hollywood, non-American-dream content.


What seems to get everyone all excited is what they see as the unique element of a 12 year time frame with a succession of annual 14 minute episodes seamlessly stitched together using the same actors each time. Not a bad concept if combined with other methods than conventional commercial ones. Rather than spending four million on stage sets, equipment, and a bunch of agreeable actors, most of whom Mr. Linklater had used in prior films including Ellar Coltrane in FAST FOOD NATION (2006), how much more worthy would this film have been if he had found an actual family to document over 12 years with their own stories of what was important in their lives each year instead of what we got which was simply actors parroting a writer's script in melodramatic Hollywood form with all the sentimentality hooks well in place, and further emotion engaging tools like the horrors of flying splinters of glass at the dinner table. I'm thinking there are some willing families to do this multi-year documentation for considerably less than the fees Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke were paid, all the better to get authentic expression from non-actors instead of canned pretend behavior from professional actors. Must phony Hollywood artifice rule, as in the stagey convenience of a pictorially useful red light darkroom that follows a sequence where Mason is shooting with a Canon EOS 7D digital camera?


Is cinéma vérité dead? Can the spirit of Dogme 95 be revived to spark some diversity in American film? Can a novel promotion/distribution plan emerge to challenge the existing big studio oligarchy and break their death-grip dictatorship influence on morals, taste, and values?


Perhaps the measure of a film's worth can be framed in two essential metrics.


#1 - Is there a payoff you can take home? Did the ticket price and time invested provide a worthy yield? Is there ultimate redemption for any onerous weight visited upon your psyche before the credits roll?


#2 - Will the suspension of disbelief factor remain in tact throughout the film? Apart from Ouija board and Tarot card games this interesting state may be unique to movies. It seems to be a voluntary act of will, yet it occurs automatically when the lights go down. There is an involuntary aspect to this that can rule like the rigidity of a steel bench vise. Being conscious of the theater surroundings, and that you even exist, sometimes gets displaced as you are drawn intractably deeper into the vortex the film commands. Michael Haneke made a classic example of this in FUNNY GAMES (1997). This happened in spite of the protagonist occasionally breaking out of the action of the story to direct a question to the theater audience. Also, several Hitchcock's have commanded a similar juggernaut. Beyond the thrillers, there are calmer, effectively absorbing films to keep you engaged such as WISE BLOOD, DAYS OF HEAVEN, DOWN BY LAW, NANOOK OF THE NORTH, ADAPTATION, THE ENGLISH PATIENT, THE BICYCLE THIEF, NETWORK, KING OF HEARTS, HUSBANDS, THE CELEBRATION, BREAKING THE WAVES, BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB, VILLAGE OF DREAMS, GOOD WILL HUNTING, THE STEAMROLLER AND THE VIOLIN. PARIS TEXAS, CRIES AND WHISPERS.


In BOYHOOD the suspension of disbelief I granted was gradually reclaimed as it looked more and more like a formulaic box office effort and I began to realize this was the longest 164 minutes I'd ever spent. If, like the showy folk at the Academy Awards, you like acting and acting out, actors and emoting, you may find this film worthwhile. The acting was generally good, especially Arquette and Hawke.


On the redemption side, I'm still scratching around. All the adults were damaged, painful to watch, with lots of predictable, obigatory, socially compliant hugs and clichéd I love yous, maybe a representation of contemporary desperation to find meaning. For Mason, the best we can wish for is a slightly promising angle on ennui, which may resonate; for lots of us that may be as good as it gets. Any possible ultimate payoff on this investment will have to wait until the time when some positive residue surfaces after time and reflection sift out all the 5 star hype.