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Imagine a supercut of a show like Boy Meets World, and you pretty much have Boyhood.
Trigger Warning(s): Domestic Abuse & Homophobia
Review (with Spoilers)
It’s hard to ignore a film which is getting universal praise and is probably the first, or one of the few, to use the same actors across various time periods of a character’s life in order to tell a story. And for that, the film deserves a lot of props. Yet, the question remains: Is the gimmick all this film has to offer or does watching a family over a decade really justify the universal acclaim and accolades this likely will get?
Characters & Story
The central character of Boyhood is Mason, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) who we watch grow up from the early 2000s, till maybe sometimes around 2012 or 2013. Throughout our journey with him we watch as his annoying older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) grows up with him; his mom Olivia (Patricia Arquette) goes from one bad relationship to the next, while improving herself by going to school and getting a good job as a professor; and we see how his relationship with his father, Mason, Sr. (Ethan Hawke), who sees him a few times a month, affects him.
Making for an overall movie which is very much like a sitcom in which divorce is possible, domestic abuse, Texan culture is featured, and honestly, it feels like mostly the best parts are kept, with only the slightest bit of filler, to create a nearly 3-hour movie.
Outside of the fact this film took 12 years to make and used the same actors all throughout, much less surely set a standard I doubt many will repeat/ invest in, honestly it is sort of hard to praise this film. But, even with that said, I must say both Arquette and Hawke are a godsend for the film. If just because those two help provide the film with just enough of a story for it to function. For example, if this was a normal movie, Arquette would be the star and everyone else would be supporting characters. For in her performance, we get some type of foundation by watching her be a, mostly, single mom trying to better herself and provide her kids a family. Then, as for Hawke, he helps Mason Jr. develop as a character and help compensate for some of the issues of the film listed below.
When it comes to the film, there are a lot of issues which lead me to not understand all the praise I see. If just because the film’s gimmick of covering 12 some odd years becomes more a liability than an asset. Like when it comes to having a sense of time in the film, outside of a reference to Barack Obama’s first presidential run, the other references used in the film may lead you to not know what year it is, and without that it is hard to know how far in time the film has leaped. Something which can be an issue if you want to know how old the children are, what grade they are in, and really follow along.
Thus leading to major issue no. 2: over the course of the film, as much as you see Samantha and Mason Jr., it is hard to connect with them. The reason I think for this is because they aren’t given much of a story at all. They, basically, for most of the film are Olivia’s children who make life a bit challenging for her. Which, as mentioned in the praise, makes you feel she shouldn’t be splitting the focus with the kids. However, being that the gimmick of the film is a family through 12 years, unfortunately, Arquette is but a piece of the puzzle. And while Hawke’s character tries to help make Mason Jr. interesting, at the end of the day the kids are written with as much depth as most kids or teens are in regular films/ TV Series.
Take Samantha for example, as the film goes on the only thing that changes is she whines less. I mean, yeah she talks about boys, gets a boyfriend, talks about drinking, and little things like that, but she doesn’t at all present herself as someone worth taking an interest in. Nothing bad happens to her, she doesn’t come off as someone you can relate to, and honestly, sometimes I think she is in the film just because her dad is the writer/ director. As for Mason Jr., he is given slight depth, but with the film not focusing on one period of time, it makes every little detail of his life which could, and perhaps should, be explored over before it can get to be developed.
Then comes the major issue, for the whole cast, which deals with the fact that those 4 are the only consistent cast members. Everyone else comes and goes so frequently, and without saying or doing something of significance often, that after a while it seems pointless to learn anyone’s name. Which perhaps is the film’s real Achilles heel. For as much as Olivia’s husbands matter when it comes to the story, after their part is done they seem more like footnotes than a character who had a major role in the character’s lives.
Overall: TV Viewing
Recognizing how cool the film’s gimmick is, honestly when it comes to story it falters under the weight of said gimmick. The casts don’t develop as you sometimes think they should, and with no strong supporting roles, the story overall feels like a supercut of a TV series in which significant moments and characters are included, but none of the meat of the overall story. Thus leading to a TV Viewing label for even with the film being nearly 3 hours, what is most praiseworthy is the fact everyone stuck with this film for 12 years than the film itself.