It’s been in theaters for a few weeks now and if you’ve paid attention to the critics, you’d know that “Boyhood” has been universally praised. The words “epic” or “masterpiece” are being thrown around like free candy during a parade as people gush all over this movie.
“Boyhood” isn’t as amazing as everyone is making it out to be. There are several great things about it, but “Boyhood” leaves a lot to be desired. The fact that director/writer Richard Linklater was able to construct anything resembling a movie while filming it in bits and pieces over a twelve year span is remarkable.
However, there is nothing remotely close to a narrative to really dig into. Essentially, you are just going to spend almost three hours watching Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) grow up and experience several things that all kids go through. We see sections of his life in chunks, with the bad times heavily outnumbering the good times.
It’s odd that “Boyhood” seems to focus on all the bad instead of the good. It’s even stranger when Mason’s father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), specifically asks Mason Jr.’s sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), why she remembers only the fights he had with their mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette) instead of all the good times they had.
If only Linklater had taken Mason Sr.’s advice and maybe dabbled a bit more fun times in “Boyhood”. Sure, there is the joy of learning how to throw and catch a football, going to Astros games, and the inevitable discovery of the lingerie section in the JC Penney catalog, but the happy moments are too few and far between.
Instead, “Boyhood” spends far too much time with an awful stepfather, who goes from seemingly nice guy to abusive, drunken husband for no reason. There is little explanation as to why this happens and while it’s dramatic, it makes for poor storytelling.
Everyone knows that adolescence isn’t a picnic and there are plenty of brutal things that happen while growing up, such as being picked on for absolutely no reason in the middle school restroom. There just isn’t any context around any of these events. Why is Mason getting picked on? Did something happen or is he just one of those kids that unfortunately is subjected to bullying?
“Boyhood” seems more concerned with showing childhood trauma as opposed to the reasons for it. There is some reason provided for the meltdown of Olivia’s third marriage to Jim (Brad Hawkins), who is an Iraq War veteran that seems to fall apart over time after his return to the United States.
For a movie called “Boyhood” that focuses on a boy, this movie sure has a fairly uninteresting star. He’s much more engaging and interesting as a small child than as a young adult, when he spends most of his time loaded with angst over his disinterest in school and the ups and downs of high school dating.
“Boyhood” also contradicts itself as it embraces Mason’s peculiarities, but insults the young athlete. Isn’t the entire point of this movie to embrace childhood for all its ugliness and beauty? If so, it seems a bit shortsighted to insult one group of kids that are also learning life just because they aren’t “like you”. Those kids are on the same trip as Mason, but their path is different, which is then hypocritically trashed by Mason and his father.
Speaking of his father, Ethan Hawke dominates “Boyhood”. His character grows from irresponsible, absentee dad to a wise, responsible adult. He shows flashes of it while Mason is very young, but his goodness is fully realized once Mason hits his teenage years.
In fact, it may have been a much more interesting movie if Linklater had followed Ethan Hawke’s character around for 12 years and made a movie called “Adulthood” instead. It is far more compelling to watch a man-child become a fully realized adult in his late 20s to 40s than what amounts to vignettes about a kid.
Look, there is no question that “Boyhood” is a technical masterpiece. The brilliance of it is that it captures each time frame, either with music or clothes, even down to Roger Clemens’ dominant 2005 season with the Houston Astros. Watching Mason and Samantha literally grow up in a three hour movie is something that will never, ever be duplicated and it’s a true cinematic feat.
It’s just that there is something missing. Maybe an ambitious project like this only gets harder to pull off with a trickier, more involved script so it was best for Linklater and crew to keep it as simple as possible. There just isn’t anything truly emotional that grabs you and makes you feel deeply invested in the well being of the characters. Instead, you’re just kind of, well, watching them.
“Boyhood” is a filmmaker’s movie. It’s not exactly a vanity project, but it’s also not pretentious. It’s a marvel of ingenuity and originality, but needs a little sappiness to hook into your heart and make you root for Mason a little harder, care about his family a little more, and maybe make you relate to the entire situation more.
Instead, “Boyhood” leaves you feeling like you’re on the outside looking in at Mason’s life, when all you really want to do is connect with him.