Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke
Filmed over 12 years, Boyhood tells the story of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from age 5 to 18 and how he literally grows up in front of our eyes and experiences all the challenges of growing up in the modern world. As he grows up music changes, technology advances and those around him, including his two separated parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke) also change.
When writing my top 10 films of 2014 I happily admitted that one film I had not got round to watching but may well have featured in that run down had I seen it was indeed Boyhood. Well, now having seen it I can quite happily state that had I seen it in 2014, it would most definitely have not featured in that list. Boyhood is without doubt a really good film with admirable ambition that is a poignant melodrama, but the extreme hype and admiration it has received is in my view not quite deserved.
It is due to the extremely frequent use of words like ‘masterpiece’ in reference to Boyhood and my personal feelings that such words are praise that is a little too high may mean that my review is steeped in negativity. While I do believe Boyhood to be overrated, it is still a good film with a lot to offer and one I recommend to all as a one off viewing, but it is not a great film, let alone some kind of genre or generation defining masterpiece.
The narrative concept itself is very contrived and though the idea of filming over 12 years and not only the film’s characters physically growing up as well as mentally as the film goes along, but also the world around them changing is captured authentically, I cannot help but feel that the praise that it has received for this approach is a little excessive. Indeed praise just for the how it was made, and though most praise is deserved for the bravery of the producers to invest in a 12 year project (one of course was Linklater himself), is probably so high because of the fact it is filmed over 12 years, which I will not deny adds a certain level of authenticity but also novelty.
Boyhood is certainly very watchable and engaging for its entire 165 minutes, but quite forgettable too and I hope that once people have got over praising it for the novelty of being filmed over twelve years, they will realise this and Boyhood will be quickly forgotten about.
Okay, so that is (most of) the negativity out of the way; Boyhood very much appears to be a passion project for Richard Linklater and the obvious passion that he made Boyhood with is one of the reasons it gets away with its extremely contrived narrative and concept. The naturalistic and raw script makes for very relatable and likeable characters and the situations that they find themselves in as their lives take various twists and turns. This is not just Mason, but also his parents, and indeed the various characters that come in and out of Mason’s life. There are some truly memorable characters that we the audience come to care about, but they are suddenly no longer in the film as they are no longer part of Mason’s life. This is indeed very reminiscent of one of the sad facts of life; that some people do just come and go from our lives whether we intend that to be the case or not.
It is these raw moments that do make Boyhood such an engaging drama at time of watching and indeed the characters all likeable, and more importantly relatable, just because they do feel on the whole very real. I am sure that there will be moments in Boyhood where every viewer will feel a deep connection for as it will in some way remind them at least partly of an experience of their own life. Linklater does deserve a lot of credit, (not necessarily awards though) for the naturalistic and raw approach of Boyhood. However it is down to this raw approach that Boyhood never feels as jarringly episodic as it could have easily done and the shifts in time are extremely seamless.
However to describe Boyhood as unconventional is not exactly accurate; It still has plenty of narrative conventions, such as the narrative journey’s of some of the characters and their subsequent character arcs. This not necessarily a criticism as it has to offer a sense of closure to be a satisfying viewing experience, but it in my view adds some context to the fact that the praise it has received is perhaps a little too excessive (sorry, being negative again).
Some of the character traits of Mason are a little too contrived; such as him always seeming to be the one that is a little different and a bit more of a deep thinker than anyone else around him. Of course the idea of him being the outsider makes for a more interesting protagonist and some of the discussions he has with other characters are very poignant, but some other moments seem a little too lazy or obvious.
For me the main emotional core of Boyhood is Mason’s two parents; His estranged dad’s character arc is certainly a little contrived and predictable, but Linklater regular Ethan Hawke brings genuine heart to the role. As Mason’s long suffering mum who continuously enters troubled relationships Patricia Arquette is exceptional and thoroughly deserves her BAFTA win for best supporting actress. The struggles faced by the family unit of Mason, his sister and his mum are for me some of the film’s most emotionally powerful and engaging moments.
Boyhood also very lightly skims over the changes and advancements in technology over the twelve years, and the occasional song of the time is used, and though it provides the occasional interesting discussion between characters, it actually adds very little to the film as it just feels like a footnote. There is no denying that for its entire 165 minutes Boyhood is a very watchable and engaging drama that just about gets away with its extreme contrivances, but for me the great films are ones that strike a deep emotional chord that has a lasting profound affect long after the film has finished. Though the naturalistic and raw approach that Linklater goes for in Boyhood deserves credit, it is a film that for me is not memorable and is highly forgettable and not deserving of repeat viewings. The fact is that there were dramas in 2014 that I found to have a far deeper and long lasting emotional connection with than Boyhood despite the fact that the characters in Boyhood were perhaps in isolation more relatable and featured character I had more in common with. Sorry Richard Linklater, but I am not falling for the novelty factor disguising Boyhood’s deep narrative contrivances!
Raw and powerful, naturalistic and engaging, but also contrived and forgettable; Boyhood deserves undoubted credit for its unique approach and has many great individual moments of raw power and it contains two exceptional performances from Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette that undoubtedly elevate the material. However, once the novelty of its concept has worn off it is highly forgettable, and there were far more memorable and powerful dramas in 2014.