tn_boyhoodNote: I sincerely considered whether or not it was feasible to write this review one paragraph per year for 12 years. I decided maybe somebody else should do it.

When we first met Richard Linklater in the ’90s, his specialty was the one-day movie. SLACKER and DAZED AND CONFUSED captured a moment in time by following a group of characters (or a random selection of Austin weirdos) at a particular time. But all these years later he’s fascinated with the opposite: showing the same actors over a long period of time, seeing how things change. He started by following up the characters from the one-day BEFORE SUNRISE seven years later, and then fourteen years later. And with BOYHOOD, as you’ve probly heard, he somehow managed to make a movie with a star who is 7 years old at the beginning and he filmed a little bit each year until the year he starts college. About the only thing that would be more ambitious would be if he made a movie about trying to get me to sit through WAKING LIFE again.

The result is a movie as impressive as it sounds and much more involving. It still has that day-in-the-life feel, it’s just that it’s a whole bunch of days spread out across years. You know what, maybe alot of you other directors are just rushing things. Where’s the fire, man? Take the time to let your actors grow up on camera. Don’t be lazy.

This kid Ellar Coltrane plays Mason, Patricia Arquette plays his single mother, Ethan Hawke plays his dad who he hasn’t seen in a while who comes in driving an awesome car and is cool and everything but what a deadbeat. And we see them all age more than a decade on camera. Man, it’s like BENJAMIN BUTTON in reverse! Instead of aging backwards he ages forwards.

mp_boyhoodOriginally they wanted to call it 12 YEARS, but then 12 YEARS A SLAVE came out so they decided it had to be changed. Also they considered 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS, HAPPY FEET and GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE, but as the years went on each of these titles were snatched up by other productions. It’s kind of a shame they settled on BOYHOOD because it’s really the story of this family, and for the first half or more is just as much about Mason’s older sister Samantha, played by Linklater’s daughter Lorelei. Toward the end we see less of her, and I heard it was because as she got older she didn’t really want to be in dad’s movie anymore. Which is a reminder what a miracle it is that they managed to pick a kid that would continue doing this for 12 years and doing it well.

They wisely put in timely references, intentionally making it dated. So when he’s a kid he has his Spider-man pajamas, his Dragon Ball Z poster. His sister sings pop songs and talks about Lady Gaga. They dress up to go buy a Harry Potter book. As a teen he talks to a girl about Twilight books. They seem to buy every game system that ever comes out. In 2008 he lists the best movies of the summer as TROPIC THUNDER, DARK KNIGHT and PINEAPPLE EXPRESS. He stumps for Obama, his dad rants about the war, about Bush, about Sarah Palin. There’s a part that they never could’ve predicted would fit so well where dad and son are talking about STAR WARS and how if they ever made new ones they couldn’t take place after RETURN OF THE JEDI because there’s no story there.

Imagine if you were a kid that same age, especially one who grew up in Texas. You’re gonna wanna go back and rewatch this movie throughout the years. There are plenty of people who love DAZED AND CONFUSED because it re-creates the era of their childhood so well. This one doesn’t have to re-create it, it just documents it.

He morphs in and out of different phases. He looks pretty Biebery at one point. In 8th grade he’s turned really cool and confident, then all the sudden he sprouts a teenage half-mustache and his hair gets shagged out. By the end of the movie he’s kinda dressing and carrying himself like Ethan Hawke. Coincidence, I bet, but fitting. And he starts talking about authors and stoner philosophy and shit. It’s like the origin story for a Linklater slacker.

Wouldn’t that be embarrassing if you sincerely thought it started out really good but then you lost interest after a while? That would look pretty bad.

I’m starting to realize that I really like Ethan Hawke. It seems like every time I see him in a movie I start thinking he’s really undervalued. I like the elbow grease he puts into crappy movies, but here he gets to apply it to a really good one. He has that perfect mix of emotional immaturity and sincere innocence. You can see why he’d be infuriating to the ex-wife and ex-mother-in-law, and exciting to the kids. There are scenes where he’s dripping with genuine, dorky enthusiasm, trying to share his political ideas or his love of music with the kids. He plays songs on the car stereo and gives a running commentary about all the things to notice. It’s way too much. It’s great. You can’t fake that.

That’s why he’s likable, but also because he seems aware of his shittiness and attempting to address it. To me one of the most moving scenes is when he brings himself to say something to mom about how well she raised the kids.

And it’s a hell of a role for Arquette. I guess she’s done TV shows and stuff but I realize I haven’t seen her in a while. Here she goes through so much. Some of it admittedly is the same problems you could see in Lifetime TV movies (handled much better here, I believe) but what got me most was the scene where he’s leaving her to go to college. Leaving her alone. She’s proud but also she feels like it’s the end of her whole world. I’m sure that will be the Oscar clip.

I was also impressed by Marco Perella as Mason’s first step dad, Bill.  I heard other people say he played it too evil, but I thought he was a very true-to-life asshole. You want to punch this guy so bad as he slowly slides from a cheeseball to a dick to a controlling jerk to an  abusive psycho. It’s really scary seeing him flip out near these kids and their mom, but I already hated him when he was being too critical of his son when they go golfing. The first time you see him he makes a joke about his kids and it seems innocent but you quickly see a pattern of having to undercut people all day long. I looked up this guy and he has 64 credits on IMDb but it looks like pretty much only bit parts in Texas-filmed movies, from “FBI George” in COHEN AND TATE to “Good Ol’ Boy in Pickup” in HOME FRIES, “Starbucks Guy” in MISS CONGENIALITY and “Skinny Dude” in SIN CITY. I hope this gets him some bigger roles.

Another bad teacher is Tom McTigue as the high school photography teacher Mr. Turlington. He gives Mason a lecture in the dark room that’s actually really good advice, but he sounds like such an asshole the whole time that it’s hard to imagine Mason not instinctively rejecting it all.

There’s actually a re-occurring theme of teacher relationships here. His mom marries her professor, and later becomes a professor and then marries a student. It does a good job of capturing these unexpected twists in life. Everybody is always changing, going down different paths. Not just the boy but also his sister, his parents. Everybody’s still growing up.

And you don’t always know when it’s gonna go sour. I’m guessing the filmatists didn’t even know from year to year how it was gonna end up, making it feel more real. There’s one marriage that doesn’t go well but at the beginning I got a nice feeling of “things are getting better.” There’s a scene where the dad and the mom are able to bring their families together briefly, have a nice moment, show genuine respect and appreciation for what each family does for the kids.

Watching this kid really age I identified with him but also with his parents. It makes you feel that protectiveness: oh shit, he has grown so much, don’t let him hurt himself. Or turn out to be a douchebag. When he’s drinking and smoking pot a little young, and being in cars with dipshits driving, and playing around with power tools, it has an almost horror movie type of tension. Part of me is going “It’s fine, let him experiment” and part of me is DO YOU WANT TO END UP LIKE YOUR ASSHOLE STEP DAD? No you don’t. Here, drink this Shirley Temple.

This movie is so involving that as soon as you start thinking it’s almost over you wonder “Are they gonna do MANHOOD?” But you know what, let the poor kid go. If he fucks up his life we don’t need to be there to see it. And if he doesn’t he doesn’t need to share everything with the world of indie filmgoers. I mean, this one is pretty much untoppable, but maybe Linklater will find other ways to revisit characters over time. He could do it with the cast of SCHOOL OF ROCK maybe? Nah, that might be kind of sad, unless they all went on to be successful musicians, or at least live happy lives without their music. What about his BAD NEWS BEARS remake? Well, one of those kids already died. You know what, if you film Billy Bob Thornton being an asshole over 12 years I will definitely watch that.

I can’t really recommend this one enough. It goes without saying that there’s nothing quite like it. Who knew the laidback Austinite Linklater could dream so big and then make it a reality? I guess he really didn’t want people calling him a slacker anymore.


*Producer Cathleen Sullivan’s only other credit is playing “Girl in Camaro” in THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN.

*TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE sound designer Wayne Bell is credited as dialogue and sound effects editor.

* Brad Hawkins, who plays Jim, played “the Gold Ranger” on Power Rangers Zeo

*If it wins the SAG Award for Best Ensemble they can put a Screen Actor’s Guild Award Winner seal on the cover of Power Rangers Zeo

* This was actually filmed in two weeks on Robert Rodriguez’s ranch using puppets to simulate aging

This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 10th, 2014 at 11:44 pm and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

17 Responses to “Boyhood”

  1. Too bad that Lars von Trier lost interest in his Film-a-new-scene-once-a-year-over-the-course-of-several-decades movie and left it unfinished. This would have been the one von Trier movie, that I would actually be willing to watch. Who wouldn’t want to see Udo Kier get older over the course of one movie?

  2. Yeah, as my forum post pretty much demonstrates, I’m gonna be “that crazy guy” on this one. I could get through about an hour and a half of this before I’d just about had enough.

    It’s inaccurate to say that this movie is to me what something like “Gravity” was to Mouth. I didn’t hate “Boyhood”. On a technical level I think it’s very good. As a technical achievement it’s outstanding. I just don’t see much to LIKE about it.

    So the movie starts, in its opening scene, with Chris Martin warbling “Look at the stars, look how they shine for you” while the boy of the title (who is a complete cypher with no observable character whatsoever, except he likes videogames and bikes and not doing his homework, because boys) lays on the grass (Why? Because it’s something boys do or because it’s something people do in movies?) looking up at the sky. In broad daylight.

    Let me repeat that for emphasis. “Look at the stars…” – broad daylight. That’s the level of attention to detail we’re dealing with here.

    The second montage of boy-doing-boy-things (expect about fifty of them in the first hour or so) is when he and his friend ride their bikes along a grassy verge next to a pavement while the Hives’ “Hate to say I told you so” plays. If you can’t remember “Hate to say I told you so”, don’t worry – it’s that one song that got overplayed to the point of torture before everyone realised it was crap. Like just about every pop song used in this thing. Like I said, I don’t hate the movie. But I do kinda hate the soundtrack.

    Remember “Sucker Punch”‘s soundtrack? Specifically, remember the Skunk Anansie-Bjork collaboration on “Army of Me”, a song that was already great before Skunk added their contribution to it, therefore making it officially the most awesome thing ever heard in a movie? Or remember “Spring Breakers”‘ use of Britney Spears? Remember how fantastic those moments were? Well, expect “Boyhood” to take the opposite approach. It takes the most obvious, cliche’d musical choices, using horribly overplayed pop hits of the times, often in ways that make no goddamn sense (eg, the “Stars” line from Coldplay, above.)

    (And on that comparison… Bjork can pull off lines like “If you complain once more, I’ll wreak an army of me”, because she has the voice and the attitude to just sell them. The Hives meanwhile are using lines like “Do what I want cause I can and if I don’t, because I wanna,” while sounding like a bunch of twelve-year-olds who’ve just found their parents’ guitars and have decided to make a song with them. Which I guess kinda fits the theme of the movie… but couldn’t they have found a song that’s a little less horribly overplayed and generally just fuckin’ bad? Any song?)

    I’m interested in this point from Vern’s review:

    “I’m guessing the filmatists didn’t even know from year to year how it was gonna end up, making it feel more real.”

    See, for me it had exactly the opposite effect. There was obviously no story here, the filmmakers had nothing to say, so they resorted to movie cliches. For example: Patricia Arquette’s character (defining characteristics: patient mother, never disciplines her kids, constantly makes awful decisions, and is totally defined by her relationships to men – think a Disney Princess after she married, put on a few pounds, and discovered that Prince Charming wasn’t so charming after all) starts the movie having left a failed marriage with a younger, carefree, irresponsible loser. About a third of the way into the movie she gets involved with a guy who’s the exact opposite of this in every way: an older control-freakish career guy.

    On a personal note: does this happen? Has it EVER happened? Can a person be attracted to a specific “type”, get burned, then suddenly be attracted to another person who’s the exact opposite of that “type”? See I knew a girl from my school days who got into a bad relationship with a guy who lived on a council estate, never worked, was about twelve years older than her, and had two kids from two separate previous relationships. Every one of her friends told her to dump this loser, which she eventually did… only to get involved with a “handyman” of no fixed income, fifteen years her senior, with kids from a previous relationship, who lived in a caravan. The point I’m trying to make here is that the whole “get burned by one person, then immediately rebound by going for somebody who’s the exact opposite of them in every way” is a thing that only ever happens in movies, as far as I know. I’ve never seen it happen in real life. More than that, it’s a cliche.

    There are some sweet moments between the boy and his sister (for the most part an unlikeable precocious brat, which I guess is what passes for “realism”) and between the mother and her children. These are the only things that redeem this movie for me. If there’d been more moments like the ones where the mother reads to her kids in bed, or the two kids share binoculars when watching their parents, I still would’ve had problems with the movie’s structure – basically it doesn’t have one, nor does it have a story to tell – but I would’ve at least liked the characters more.

    As it is… you can get the same experience as I had with this movie by standing in the middle of a crowded street, listening to what random people are talking about, while playing shitty overplayed pop music from the mid-late 2000s and early 2010s. The comparison I’ve made is: think that opening post-credits scene in “Pulp Fiction” where Travolta and Jackson are walking up to kill some guy, talking about foot massages and hamburgers. Now imagine that they weren’t on their way to kill some guy, that they had a helluva lot less personality / charisma, and the movie was nothing but them talking about random shit. For one and a half solid hours.

    I’m obviously in a small minority on this one. A lot of people loved this movie. As far as the characterisation of the sister goes – she at least comes across as an original character, even if I didn’t find her particularly likeable – and the technical aspects, well, I can totally get why they’ve been highly-praised. These seem to be the things that have mostly been lauded in the reviews. I have seen some reviews that share my concerns, but to quote Vern on “Transformers”, “they’re usually very polite about it”. These points are not deal-breakers for them. Or for most people, apparently.

    This movie is a montage of “moments”, mostly either stereotypical “boy” stuff or random movie cliches, set to awful music. It has no structure, no story, and precious little character development. I guess that might change in the bits I didn’t see later on… but honestly, guys, I watched it for longer than some full-length movies and I found absolutely nothing to hold my interest. It’s not that I hated it in the way I hated, say, “Buried” or “Bad Boys 2”. There’s nothing particularly good or bad about it. It says nothing of value and it takes hours to do so. So based on my own experience, I couldn’t recommend it to anybody. But again, lots of people obviously did like or even love it, so… watch at your own risk, I guess?

  3. I dunno Paul, I dont think a movie has to have a plot by plot “story” to be effective. Impact can occur when you read between the lines, like the way Malick evokes emotions and memories through poetic images. You can interpret it through your own filter.

    Linklater can ramble some, but I like what he aims for. David Gordon Green and Jeff Nichols films have a similar effect on me.

  4. Darren – I agree in principle, but the execution is all wrong with this one, for me. The boy has no character at all. He’s a complete cypher, yet he’s supposed to be the main character. And considering I said that “Before Midnight” was the best film I’d seen last year, I don’t think anybody can accuse me of being anti-Linklater. I was just really, really frustrated with this one. I wanted it to be great, damn it.

    For the record, here’s my history with Linklater, which is exactly 50/50 if you take the “before” movies as parts of a single complete whole:

    “Tape” – student project somehow released as a real movie with real movie stars. I still can’t believe that this wasn’t Linklater’s first movie, the direction is just awful.
    “Before” trilogy – absolutely love all of these films.
    “School of Rock” – I really liked this as well, and it just makes the scoring of “Boyhood” that much more baffling. How does the guy who directs what’s essentially a love-letter to classic rock music open his latest film with “Yellow” and “Hate to say I told you so”?
    And “Boyhood” – massive disappointment that I took nothing either positive or negative from.

    Or to put it more simply: I don’t think a movie needs a conventional “plot” either. “The Forgiveness of Blood” is an example of movie with no plot whatsoever, where every significant action happens offscreen, and where the movie ends without us knowing what will happen to the main character, or even if he’ll survive. And I liked that movie.

    “The Forgiveness of Blood” didn’t have a conventional plot, but it DID have a lot of interesting things to say. That’s where it differs from “Boyhood” for me.

  5. Paul’s comments on omnipresent pop hits of days of yore made me wonder: Do we know whether Linklater chose the songs at the time of filming, or did he go figure it out years later in post?

    I’m very fond of this movie. People who aren’t (Half in the Bag, sniff!) tend to point at how mundane a lot of it is – saying the kid is bland, or the kid grows into an unappealing quasi-hipster-douche-artiste, or that the “this happened; moving on” handling of events doesn’t have enough dramatic impact. While I wouldn’t want every movie to be so … undynamic? recessive? introverted? … the approach managed to capture slow, sometimes minute development (of personality, of career, of daily circumstance) in a way untapped by either mainstream movies or wispy-sensitive indies. The greatest heroes, the biggest assholes, and the most middling unremarkables (and I’m afraid, objectively, most of us fit most accurately in category three) all have a backstory that matters to them, which amount to key events that appear significant when compared against whatever drone is (or was) one’s day-to-day. In Boyhood the characters may or may not intrigue but the elliptical way they get shaped felt genuine to me, and incredibly fresh. (Yeah, the 7 Up series kind of does the same, but the documentary setup doesn’t allow the same sort of closeness Linklater got with his you-are-there-as-it-happens-even-though-it’s-not-real decisions.)

  6. Well on the plus side, I’ve FINALLY found a Region 2 copy of “Man of Tai Chi”. Woohoo!

  7. And Inspector Li – I have no idea on the soundtrack question. I pretty much assumed that for some reason Linklater wanted to use “Yellow” in his film and put in that opening scene to make it “fit”. As to why the heck anybody would use the Hives in a film or anywhere else… I have no clue. I may be being harsh on them because I haven’t heard any of their other stuff, just their one big hit… but would you want to hear any more from them after “Hate to say I told you so?”

  8. I honestly didn’t know any of the songs on the soundtrack and thought they were made by small timers from Austin or something. But having read that they are popular songs of each year clearly this was the right approach.

  9. Vern – my complaint is that those specific songs were popular at the time, but then they were overplayed to death. I don’t even think they were that popular. I don’t recall anybody ever saying “Oh wow, this Yellow is the best song ever” or anything like that. It was just sort of, well, there, and a bunch of people bought it, and then it got forgotten about when better songs came out.

    Again, I’m not a Coldplay detractor. I like that band, for the most part. “Yellow” is easily one of their worst songs, and it’s the one that even people who like Coldplay tend to be apologetic about. You’ve got this award-winning album full of great, subtle, quiet, introspective songs like “Spies”, “Sparks”, “Trouble”, etc; and then you’ve got “Yellow”, a poor attempt at a rock anthem, with lyrics that aren’t up to the standard of basically anything else on said album, that does nothing for Chris Martin’s voice.

    As to how the Hives got big… I have no freakin’ idea, they sure as hell didn’t stay that way, but I gotta admit that for all its faults (it’s basically the rock version of Billie Piper’s “Because we want to”), “Hate to say I told you so” has a catchy hook. Then again, so does “Whistle” by Flo Rida, or “I gotta feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas. The difference being, the Hives pretty much disappeared after their first single. I can’t say that’s a huge surprise.

    I can’t remember any other specific songs from the soundtrack, I’d have to look ’em up; but I do remember thinking that most of them fit that sort of template. It’s the one part of the film that seriously annoyed the shit out of me. All the rest of the criticisms I’ve levelled at it aren’t things that annoyed me, they’re just reasons why the film never “grabbed” me or invested me in… I’d say the story it was trying to tell, but I’m not convinced it ever had that… whatever it was trying to do, I guess. Anyway, it’s the scoring that turned this film from “why am I here?” to “Let me get the hell out of this.”

  10. Paul, trust me – not clamoring for more Vines! Though honestly I thought it was a savvy choice for the scene. IIRC, Mason and his friends are off riding bikes, and the sloppy, driving music did remind me of how charged up I’d get as a kid speeding around on the two-wheeler with no more purpose than Immediate Sensation Now. Plus, it does conjure up a time period. I’m ok with not hearing “Yellow” or “Hate to Say…” again, but they’re not detestable enough (for me) to outweigh how they got woven into the film.

    Kinda off topic, but Edgar Wright is king of this in my book for “The World’s End”. I lived in the UK around the time that Pegg’s character was nostalgic for, and the songs included were not only thematically relevant and tonally on point, they managed to bring me back to that point in life as they do for Pegg. You know, that transporting feeling you get when recall when certain songs first hit your ears or finally sink in.

  11. Paul: Gonna have to disagree on “Yellow”. I’m still a big fan of Coldplay’s first two albums, though I lost much of my interest after. In the context of the time, that song and U2’s “Beautiful Day” were the sunshine needed after so much crappy nu-metal, rap rock and grunge castoffs on rock and alternative radio at the time. If it came much later, I’d probably agree with you, but it was so positive and full of light I couldn’t help but be charmed by it.

  12. Paul- wait! it´s hard to get a hold of a region 2 copy of MAN OF TAI CHI? Shit, in Sweden we drown in them

  13. Inspector Li – definitely agree on Wright and “The World’s End”. The difference between that and “Boyhood” is that I feel a lot of thought went into “The World’s End”. There were no bizarre moments like “Look at the stars…” that made me wonder what the heck anybody was doing.

    OnTheWall – I own Coldplay’s first two albums. Like you, I’m not so much a fan of the third, and I haven’t heard the rest except for a couple of singles. “Yellow” isn’t the worst song ever, by any means. It might be the most overplayed though. It’s never been a song I hated (although I can’t truthfully claim to have ever liked it either); I just got sick to death of hearing it again, and again, and again… And yeah, “Beautiful Day” was great. (I own “All that you can’t leave behind” too.)

    Anyway, I’m gonna stop banging on about this now, and let the people who actually enjoyed the film have their say.

  14. An amazing movie. The performances were outstanding, and I do think it should be called Familyhood, as opposed to HoodFamily. One of the best theatre going experiences I’ve had. Usually I like to see spectacle like the Avengers on the big screen and save the dramas for home, but I feel that for this one the theater experience helps to totally immerse you in these people’s lives. Watching the family grow and change was really engrossing, I don’t even think it can be fully comprehended upon first viewing without some thoughtful contemplation after seeing it.
    Two things I loved: that people who were so much a part of your life at one time go away, and that now you’re probly only facebook friends with them or something. And I loved the jumpcut at the party near the end….I guess he didn’t need a ride to college.

  15. Paul, not sure that lyrics to a song have to literally tie up with the images on screen, I think Linklater was just using the songs to create a time and place. I too think Yellow was maybe a bit disappointing as it had been SO ubiquitous, but I don’t think the kid needed to be looking at stars just because the song said it! I loved the film myself however. It wasn’t about big profound things, but the little moments in life which made it what it was. Also the scene when Hawke tries to explain the facts of life to his daughter was charming and hilarious.

  16. Paul: The boy isn’t a non-character. Stoicism, contemplativeness, and introversion are all characteristics. If you had kept watching, you would have gotten to see how he finally meets a girl who “brings him out of his shell” as well.

    Actually I thought it was a very involved and nuanced character that developed in just the organic manner you would hope for a conceptual feat like this.

  17. Renfield – I can’t disagree with you about where the boy goes, because I don’t know. The fact remains that I watched this film for longer than some other entire films’ lengths, and it almost completely failed to engage me for that entire time. (I say “almost” because there were fragments that I liked – in particular, the scenes of the mother with her kids, and the boy with his sister, when they were actually being nice to one another.) In that time I saw multiple instances of what the boy does, but almost nothing about who he is. If that makes any sense.

    Y’know why I think this film failed so badly to engage me personally? Film is, at its heart, about conflict. Life generally isn’t – sure, we all have conflicts, but our lives by and large are dominated by the other moments. “Boyhood” tried to take a boy’s “life” and fit it into the structure of a three-hour film. As a result it came off, to me, as lacking any kind of authenticity. Just in the part of the film I saw, there were so many examples of characters acting like “movie characters”, not real people. There’s no believability there. It’s framing movie cliche as “realism”.

    And you might very well say that doesn’t the “conflict” argument apply to 99% of all movies anyway? – And I would answer yes, it does, but those other movies have a structure and story that “fit” the characters. “Boyhood”, at least for the part of it that I saw, does not. Again it’s quite possible that that might change later on, but if a movie hasn’t “grabbed” me almost ninety minutes into its running time, then I’m not interested in seeing what happens after that point.

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