Film Review: Boyhood

There has been so much made of Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s epic time-lapse of one boy’s childhood years that it is almost transforming into a cult of hyperbole and amplification regarding just how good it is. It’s reputation long gone before it can even hint at preceding it. Proven by the near unfaltering acceptance that it’s going to walk away with the Best Picture Oscar in a few weeks without the merest hint of trouble.

It appears there are two categories regarding it: Simply those who have seen it and those who have not. Or as some would have you believe. Film fans and philistines. I on the other hand, fall into a different category. I’m a film fan who hadn’t seen it. Mainly because I missed it’s cinematic release and it’s only just come out on DVD. Otherwise, I fall firmly into the camp of pre-emptive praise: not claiming to know it’s good, but certainly keeping it on the radar because I’ve heard it’s something very special.

Passing Time - Boyhood

There is one obvious starting issue with Boyhood, it’s length. Richard Linklater shot it in bite-size chunks over a 12 year period, which means there is a lot of source material to pick from, to edit down, and the result is a long, long film. Two and three quarter hours long in fact. Which means that you need to plan to watch it, you can’t just throw it on to pass some time. And with that much film to digest, it really is a marathon and not a sprint. Something, which annoyingly is highlighted in the pacing. The film feels it’s length and then some. I remember when it was out in the cinema, reviewers talking about how it felt long but constantly moving. Always dragging you forward and thus, hiding it’s true length. But for me that’s rubbish. It felt long. It felt never ending. And if I’m honest, if I didn’t know the running time before hand, I would have easily reckoned it to have lasted well over 3 hours. It’s just a slow, tired, sludge through a story that wore me down a long time before it’s end. And it’s not as though, it just carries on going, bypassing apparent natural end points as can often happen (Ex Machina). It’s just a slow film that shuffles along, constantly adding just a little bit more. And a little bit more. And more.

I think my sense of elongating time is down to the fact that I just didn’t connect to the story. In fact it lost me within the opening few minutes. I really wanted to lost myself into it as a film, but as soon as “Big Sister” had faked her own tears in an act of sibling bullying that rang painfully true to my own childhood memories as a younger brother, it lost me. It created a negative emotion in me right at the start and drove me away from the characters, from the world and honestly, never won me back.

Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater, Ellar Coltrane & Ethan Hawke - Boyhood

Another issue I had with the film was that I didn’t know what was fact and what was fiction. Who, if any, existed in real life. I was constantly conflicted by this sense of unknown. Whether the lead character, the titular boy – Mason – was in fact a real child growing up in a film, or whether they were just characters telling a very protracted story. Either way, it meant I couldn’t relax because I was always questioning the setup.

It doesn’t help as well that Ethan Hawke never manages to blend into the film. He always feels like Ethan Hawke rather than the Father; he always feels like he is an actor playing a part. Patricia Arquette is the complete opposite though and for me stole the show. She is spectacular in the role of the Mother and instantly draws you into her character, demanding you empathise with her. I felt her turmoil, love and longings for life in a way that Hawke just fails to even come close to.

Richard Linklater’s own daughter Lorelei Linklater plays the aforementioned “Big Sister” and after my initial dislike, I did grow to accept her more, but her role is very supportive and tidal, dropping in and out as necessary.

You have to give singular attention to Ellar Coltrane though. And while it is amazing to watch him grow up in front of you, changing, maturing, adolescencing, I just don’t believe in his character. He is just too stereotypically against the grain. And when you realise that the outward expression, the clothes, the hair are all stage managed as part of the story. He loses any charm. He’s growing up paint by numbers. Visually lacking some of the humility that his personality suggests he has. You want to believe he’s real because to accept he’s a character means you accept he isn’t susceptible to fate, destiny or his own free will. He becomes just a pawn in somebody else’s imagination.

Free Will - Boyhood

I really wanted to like Boyhood, with so much excitement and buzz surrounding it I wasn’t expecting it to prove testing, let alone disappointing. And I don’t think it’s even a case of raising my expectations higher than it could reach. I just don’t think it’s a good film. It feels like a clinical study based on fictional results rather than a narrative story about human growth. I think it’s getting all the Oscar attention it is simply because it’s a technical and logistical triumph for which Linklater quite right deserves credit; if it takes home Best Picture I’d be surprised (my money is now on The Grand Budapest Hotel) but if anyone other than Arquette gets Best Supporting Actress then a complete disservice has been done.

Watch it for Arquette, but you can pass the time just as well watching the grass grow.

6 out of 10 stars (6 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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