For his second film, Jon brought us another of this year’s Oscar nominees (this one not the winner) – Richard Linklater’s 12-year experiment Boyhood. And after Take The Money And Run elevated Woody Allen to the only five-time Cinema 1544 director only last time around, Boyhood now brings Linklater even with Allen, and that without the benefit of a Winter Marathon.
I don’t think anybody really saw that coming when we started Cinema 1544 seven and a half years ago. That’s what makes it fun!
Anyway, on to the film. Since we know it’s a Linklater film (and, unlike say A Scanner Darkly, not based on adapted material) we could have guessed two things – first, it’s going to be talky, and second it’s going to feature Ethan Hawke. What we couldn’t have guessed is that it would have been filmed with the same cast over a period of 12 years. It’s a very interesting opportunity to watch a cast grow up, and the promotional photos took full advantage of that:
Mason is the kind-of eponymous boy of the film – he starts out at age six.
His father is, for now, absent – split from his mother and apparently working on a fishing boat in Alaska.
His sister is a few years older than Mason. She’s also clearly hispanic, which was really distracting me for the entire film, as she was obviously not the biological daughter of Mason’s two parents. I kept expecting some sort of parentage revelation to come up (which it never did, and the story suggests, if anything, that there ought not to have been one). What I didn’t realize at the time is that the actress is Linklater’s own daughter, which explains quite a bit.
Finally, we have Patricia Arquette starring as Mason’s mother, in a role for which she won Best Supporting Actress.
The story is…well, there’s isn’t really much of one. The whole thing opens with a six-year-old Mason’s mother having an argument with her boyfriend because he wants her to be more fun and she has to be a mom. She dumps this guy and moves her children back to Houston (where her mother lives) in order to pursue an education. Eventually Mason’s father comes back into his life in the classic weekends-and-summers style.
Mom ends up falling for one of her professors and before too long they end up married. He brings along two kids of his own to the equation, but within about three years he’s a terrible, abusive drunk and Mom is forced to flee with her kids.
In a completely non-ironic twist, Mom eventually becomes a Psychologoy professor herself and ends up falling for one of her own students, who is an Iraq War veteran. He turns out to be drunk stepdad in a few years as well, though at least apparently not more than verbally abusive.
So she divorces the veteran as well. Before too long high-school aged Mason gets himself a hot girlfriend, and he keeps her for maybe two years until she dumps him at the end of their senior year because he took up photography. OK, actually it’s because she wanted to bang a college guy, but, you know, the photography (introduced by drunk veteran stepdad buying him a camera) had kind of become important to Mason. He even took a state-wide silver medal for it.
No worries, though, because he heads off to college and on his first day his new roommate introduces him to the rebound girl, and they head out to Big Bend to get high and take in the sunset. The end.
I mean, yeah, really. That’s about the depth of the narrative thread in the film. It’s not about story, which, given that it’s Linklater, it wasn’t going to be. You can’t say that it’s not an interesting experiment. And the music is great (Warning: Musical digression coming!), though in a sad admission I’m actually too old to have been able to follow the annual progression through the soundtrack. After a while it all bleeds together, though I’m assured by the young ‘uns in the audience that it worked beautifully. Seriously – 12 years of music that was all the same era. If you did this for my life, it would look something like this: Another One Bites The Dust, Hungry Like The Wolf, Hot For Teacher, Summer of ’69, Money For Nothing, Land Of Confusion, Pour Some Sugar On Me, Angel Of Harlem, Love In An Elevator, Silent Lucidity, November Rain, Smells Like Teen Spirit, Jeremy, Round Here… This is so many different eras of music. And to me, Boyhood’s 12 years covers like one. Maybe two. Such are the dangers of slowly growing old. I wouldn’t recommend it. (End of musical digression)
But for as interesting of an experiment as it is, the film just doesn’t add much to cinematic history that wasn’t already navel-gazed at in Before Sunrise. Mason’s journey is completely ordinary. And while that’s, I guess, the point, I don’t know if it makes a good movie. Arquette has a more interesting journey than Mason does, leaving the father of her children for vague and undefined reasons, and then leaving at least three more men (two divorces) because they were downright awful replacements as father figures. As Mason is going off to college she has a breakdown:
You know what I’m realising? My life is just going to go. Like that. This series of milestones. Getting married. Having kids. Getting divorced. The time that we thought you were dyslexic. When I taught you how to ride a bike. Getting divorced… again. Getting my masters degree. Finally getting the job I wanted. Sending Samantha off to college. Sending you off to college. You know what’s next? Huh? It’s my fucking funeral! Just go, and leave my picture! I just thought there would be more.
See, that’s your movie. Perhaps a bit bleak and overly dramatic, but that’s the journey I want to explore rather than “kid grows up and goes to college while repeating a ton of self-conscious introspective dialogue”. Maybe that’s just me. But maybe that’s also why Arquette won Best Supporting Actress (because I wincingly don’t it was her acting which really was kind of hamfisted…) She was the one character who actually had some modicum of motivation.
By the end it was certainly a long movie, and definitely worth watching, but I probably won’t ever sit down and watch it again.