Despite this rather rude headline, I should point out that I did like “Boyhood.” The new film from acclaimed writer/director Richard Linklater is an ambitious project; telling the story of the maturity of a boy from ages 5 to 18 by filming with the same main cast every year for 12 years is something unheard of for a film. In its 2 hour and 42 minute run time, I saw young Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, deal with divorced parents, troubled stepfathers, a struggling working mom, and the awkwardness of childhood. Linklater almost pulls it off with a nostalgic soundtrack, solid acting from the likes of Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, warm and moving cinematography, and a story that feels almost like a documentary.
But, I do want to stress the use of the word “almost,” because there is one portion of the film that kept me from giving the film the same glowing review it has been getting from nearly every film critic with a heartbeat. That point came when Mason became a teenager and entered high school (the following is essentially a spoiler for the end of the movie, so be warned). Mason develops an interest in photography, spending much of his school time in a dark room developing photos. He claims that he isn’t sure what he wants to do in his life and prefers to just live in the moment. He doesn’t talk much to people, but he opens up to a girl who is outward thinking and wondering what the purpose of life is. From all of his experiences of moving from place to place, dealing with parents who aren’t together, and simply finding out what he likes to do, he realizes that for him, being in the moment is more important than planning for the future.
Now I remember my high school year fondly (well, somewhat fondly, nobody’s perfect). I wasn’t an introspective photographer, nor did I come from divorced parents. I was proud to call myself a nerd for film, music, television, and comics. I had my group of friends who were into the same things as I was and we were happy in our own interests but were friendly and helpful to our fellow classmates. However, I knew a very small number of students similar to Mason, who constantly questioned the meaning of life and found their lives to be annoying and pointless. Not to sound too harsh, but I wanted to punch those kids in the throat.
Linklater wants to showcase Mason’s maturing as something all boys go through as they grow up and leave the nest. If that’s the case, he’s missed the mark when it comes to depicting the American teenage boy. First off, Mason apparently has spent his entire life in Texas. However, Mason looks like he belongs in Brooklyn, New York circa 2001 in the front row of a Strokes concert, with hair that acts as blinders for his face and skinny jeans. But it’s not just how Mason looks, but how he acts that angered, dare I say, insulted me. Mason as a teenager is pessimistic, ignorant, lacks emotional depth, and just plain annoying. He doesn’t care about anything, has no respect for his peers, and rambles on about where he belongs in the world. His dissertations on what the meaning of life is are about as endearing as the “Final Thought” segments on “Jerry Springer.”
I get what Linklater is trying to say with “Boyhood,” in that the moments we experience in our youth can define who we become as we grow up and that no one is sure what the point of life is, so just live it while you can. But he gives us a character that relays the message in such an annoying, pretentious manner that it sounds like being lectured more than spontaneous musings. If this were Linklater relaying his own personal high school years onto film, then that would be another thing. But the fact that this film is getting praise for, according to St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Joe Williams, showing “a thoughtful personality being formed,” is just too agitating to ignore. Is it important to look at the big picture every now and again and realize how small you are in such a big world? Of course, and that is a big part of maturing. But teens don’t do that as often as “Boyhood” likes to think. If most high school students were like Linklater’s character, high schools across the country would be filled with students with barely any friends all looking down at their shoelaces, not getting emotionally moved by anything, and talking about their place in the world instead of having a normal conversation. For example,
Me: “Hey Mason! What’s up, man? How’s life?”
Mason: (pulls long hair away from face) “I don’t know, man. I guess I’m just, comfortable with taking pictures for the rest of my life. I’m thinking about deleting my Facebook account, but it’s not like anyone would care or anything, so. Right now, I’m just (pause to put hands deeper in pockets) cool with letting the moment seize me, ya know?”
Me: “…. So, not much, huh?”
That’s Mason, a teenager who feels the need to give you his State of The Nation address anytime you try to have a basic conversation with him. Thanks Mason, but I’ll save that for my therapy sessions if I ever have a mid-life crisis before prom night.
So is “Boyhood” a bad film? No, not really. It’s a well-shot, well-acted nostalgic family photo album in a nearly 3-hour movie that goes by faster than you’d think. It also shows that there are some Hollywood directors who want to try something new and put in effort into motion pictures (unlike certain directors of transforming robots). But “Boyhood” fails in its final act to connect the audience with its lead character, because its lead character is annoying, closed-off, and hard to relate to. Richard Linklater has presented more of a snapshot of a type of modern American family than a remarkable look at growing up. And Mason, here are some helpful tips to really help you flower in this moment-filled real world.
- Try letting OTHER PEOPLE TALK for a minute or two.
- Give your mom a compliment or two, considering she’s gone through two alcoholic men to give you a home and food on the table.
- When someone gives you a gift or a compliment and you say “thank you,” try to actually show gratitude instead of looking baffled by the generosity of others
And most importantly: SHUT THE HELL UP