Stop. Right. There. And Go See “Boyhood” (2014)

Boyhood (2014), which was filmed over 12 years is really an exceptional (three-hour) movie. Set in Texas, the film focuses on the life of a fictional boy named Mason, who becomes an exceptional photographer, from the time he is six years old (in the movie and in real life) until he starts college twelve years later (in the movie and in real life). Since the film was made a few days each year for twelve years—and all of the actors and actresses stayed on for the entire time—viewers get a “truer” look at how people really age, grow, and change over time.

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This movie is not remarkable per se in terms of possible contributions to film theory or Art Cinema, but it is a very unique look at life and is a first in film history.

Boyhood is not really about the story it tells as much as it is a successful experiment. The story itself is clichéd in many ways. This movie will not win any “best picture” or “best actress” awards. But, the innovate nature and the constant and authentic aging of characters kept my attention the entire time. 

Mason’s character is unique in terms of his skepticism and humor.

This film also allows for a authentic measurement of change over time. When the movie starts cellphones were not nearly as much a part of everyday life. Texting, for all practical purposes, did not exist. We see how these change characters. And the characters comment on them. We also hear “fresh” comments about 9/11 and recent wars in the Middle East.

The film is funny, too. The actors and actresses all are very convincing.

I especially like the film has no conclusion and leaves many loose ends.

Lots of reviews will focus on its merits, so I’ll mention some of its limitations.

The film is entirely too White. All of the main characters are White. There are very, very, very few non-White extras. One Black (very) minor character.

The film shows education in a negative light. Mason’s mom attends the University of Houston. Her college professor flirts with her after class one day when she has to bring her son with her. They end up getting married. And divorced. She quickly realizes he is a mean alcoholic and bully in general. After years of college and earning a Masters degree in psychology, his mom becomes a professor at Texas State in San Marcus in the movie. We see a brief scene with her teaching in a classroom once. She is a presented as a good and liked professor, but like her second ex (the character who is a UH prof), the classroom scenes are very “old school” – the professor lectures, everyone takes notes. During the scene with Mason’s mom teaching, without trying to, I kept thinking about how with a tiny bit of active learning, she would be a more effective teacher.

The film also perpetuates stereotypes in ways. Mason regularly drinks underage and occasionally smokes pot. His mom knows this and doesn’t say anything. Mason is obsessively into girls at a young age, too.

Overall, too, the film is a pretty good look at life in Texas—but in terms of the mythology of the state. In a few places, the film was “too liberal” to be “authentically Texan” in the early twenty-first century.

I look forward to seeing this movie a few more times (I preordered a copy before I saw it today!). Hopefully more films like this will be made–and all of the characters will stay on the full time. I would love to see a movie like this made–it would be days long–filmed from each character’s point-of-view or at least from a non-White male point-of-view.

Thanks for reading. 

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Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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2 replies

  1. I saw “Boyhood” last week and agree that it is an exceptional film. While I don’t take issue with most of your comments, Andrew, I feel the movie does touch upon a theme well that you don’t mention–that is, children of divorce. As one of those children (decades ago), I was able to relate to what Mason experienced without any sense of cliche or manipulation. It was true to my experience, and I expect it will be true for many others as well. Beyond that–especially given that this three-hour film is really just a slice of life–Linklater offers a unique directorial approach, I think, that could make this a contender for some award. That’s his use of a kind of subtle sense of impending anxiousness, foreboding, uneasiness, and disaster that he instills in the viewer to keep the storyline suspenseful. You can see it almost anywhere in the film–Mason’s irresponsible father (amazingly changed at the end), a boy’s simple but scary act of swinging too high and fast, the episode in the junior high school lavatory, his stepfather’s outburst and rage, the bizarre and truly frightening episode with the boys throwing circular saw blades; and the highly charged episode when Mason confronts his new stepfather–an Iraq vet–after coming home late. All this adds an edge to the film–including the improvised dialogue in many places–that carries a tension I haven’t felt in a film since first seeing “Easy Rider.”

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