When I was in my early teens, I saw Richard Linklater’s Waking Life. Today, it’s easy to look back and think the movie is more simplistic than it was, but I still have a strong nostalgia. It was a film that spoke about deep issues in an accessible way to teenagers. The same can be said for Skanner Darkly, my still favourite Linklater film. It’s weird and visually interesting, but not purposefully confusing. If I had not enjoyed his films at that impressionable age, I would probably never even try to enjoy films like Upstream Colour. Linklater was my gateway drug to all kinds of non-linear stories and alternative film concepts, and I will always be thankful for that.
Boyhood, I knew, was not going to be another introduction course to alternative film, but according to the hype, it was very unique. Linklater has spent twelve years filming, using the same actors, who therefore age naturally. Ellar Coltrane, playing the 6-19 year old boy called Mason, said in his AMA on Reddit that every year filming was a bit like summer camp. The film also includes Linklater familiar Ethan Hawke as the father, and Patricia Arquette as the mother.
The story follows Mason, and his life is fairly ordinary. He moves houses a few times, and his mother dates a few douchebags, but all in all he turns into a typical teenager: slightly self-centered, ready to inform the world its wrong, and off to college to learn he doesn’t really know anything. It can be argued the film should be called Teenagehood as he doesn’t spend a lot of time coming of age.
The first half of the film feels very unique and heartfelt. You watch Mason grow from scene to scene, and for a child actor he is very convincing. Hawke and Arquette are fantastic. The film doesn’t need a plot at this stage. It just meanders along, showing snippets of life, and getting all its energy from the concept itself.
Slowly, however, one starts to feel the lack of plot. Several times I was certain something plot-like was going to happen. Scenes would progress like ordinary movie set-ups. An accident was sure to occur, or he would do something really stupid, but instead those scenes simply ended and more of the same presented itself. As Mason grows, his character does not, but the focus on him increases, leaving me wondering if I ever really knew the boy at all.
Had the film ended here, with a nice flashback montage of the journey we had taken, I would probably have left very satisfied. The film is almost three hours long, unfortunately, and by the end it is in Lord of the Rings ending territory. Every scene reads like it will cut to black, but it never does. The philosophizing, shoe-horned into a few scenes at the end, feels like a desperate attempt to slap frosting on a burnt cake. Perhaps it was to remind us how cringe-worthy we all were at that age. If that is the case, it should have been presented differently.
Boyhood has a beautiful boyhood, but as a teenager it outstays its welcome, and uses up all the goodwill and more. There is also the question of the “concept” and its uniqueness. Certainly, no one has ever filmed a movie in this way. But we can get the same effect very easily. Binge-watch any twelve-year running show with child actors. Watch all Harry Potter movies back-to-back. With franchises going on for so long in this day and age, we watch characters age with us throughout our lives. Harry Potter didn’t have an ordinary boyhood, but he did mature much quicker.
Dice roll: 2