This Is a Blog: Seriously, Fuck "Boyhood." Discuss.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Seriously, Fuck "Boyhood." Discuss.


The title of this post is what I thought about posting to Facebook immediately after watching "Boyhood." I chose not to because that would just be trolling. There is nothing more annoying than the one guy who feels like they have to convince everyone that a popular thing is dumb.

I honestly don't care if anyone agrees with me, and based on the 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, not many people do. I'm writing this because I couldn't find anything written about this movie that captures how I feel about it.

It's easy to walk out of a movie and point out everything wrong with it. Criticism is easy. Challenging yourself to like something you don't immediately connect to, that's hard. I'm the kind of person who tries to go into a movie with limited expectations. Everything I heard going in made me question two things:

1) Does the movie ever transcend the gimmick of how it was made?

2) Why the fuck is it three hours?

Gimmick is a harsh word for a movie like this because making a movie over 12 years really is an achievement. Nothing like this has ever been done, and there is no denying the vision and drive and pure balls of pulling it off. Watching the movie, though, I find myself measuring what's on screen against what happened behind the scenes. So the big question is, "Is the story of how the movie got made more interesting than the story told in the movie?"

To answer that, I'm left with an even bigger question, "What was the story of the movie?" Even an achievement of abstract storytelling like "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" is about a bunch of people at a dinner party who, despite their best efforts, simply cannot leave. An episodic movie like "Goodfellas" builds to Henry DECIDING to testify. Even "Forrest Gump," a movie often criticized (well, for a lot of things) for having a main character dragged along by events features a main character who makes strong, sometimes heroic, decisions over the course of the movie.

Can someone, please, tell me one thing Mason DOES? The whole point of his character is that he lacks focus and work ethic. The whole point seems to be that he doesn't do much. And if a character doesn't DO anything, his story isn't about much. It's not even his story. Even then, any of the conflict in his life happens just outside his orbit, or it happens during a time jump. He never struggles, really, and we never SEE the major downers of his life.

His parents divorce happens before the movie starts. The messy divorce from Daddy #2 happens off screen (also, what the hell happened to those kids. I'm assuming he beat them to death and they're rotting in the garage, behind the laundry detergent). The break-up with the drunk veteran happens during a time jump. Even Mason's hard work and perseverance to earn second place in a photo contest happens off screen. Without real conflict, we're left with Linklater's favorite thing ever, to show people talk about philosophy.

I realize that a movie doesn't have to fit a Hollywood mold of plot to be good, but watching a character do nothing for three hours is excruciating. Once I realized he was never going to do anything, I found myself enjoying each time jump, then sitting around waiting for the next one.

I read a review that talks about how the movie is about watching a boy learn how to understand. It starts with him just staring up at the sky because that's all a 6-year-old can do to process his circumstances. As he grows, he starts spouting pseudo-intellectual nonsense because that's what philosophy looks like to a high school kid. But the ultimate conclusion is that he has to take life one moment at a time. That's it? I waited three hours for a passive kid to just learn how to go with it? Isn't that what he's been doing the whole time?

It almost feels like, from episode-to-episode, the potential to do anything else is dragged down by the gimmick, rather than elevated. For a movie about a kid trying to overcome his parents' failed relationship, we don't see much of how that evolves. He discovers his sexuality, but we don't see it. We see one trip with one girlfriend, but we don't see how he tried to date that one girl that liked his haircut. He drinks, but we never see him really go overboard. He slacks off in school, but we only ever hear people talking about it.

For a movie that was supposedly plotted out 12 years ago, there were some real missed opportunities for setup and payoff. When he's 15, Mason Sr. sells the car, and MJ gets all pissy because dad promised him the cool car would be his. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't remember that happening in the movie. It was like that idea formed when they shot that year, but it was too late to go back and pickup the setup for it. Ideas in this movie come and go, like Daddy #2's kids. I do not think that's a commentary on the fleetingness of life. It's just that that scene was shot 6 years later.

Or consider how MJ sucks at bowling, but then he's good at golf. The thread of him failing at one thing then succeeding at something similar never goes anywhere. That was a thread I thought could have paid off, but it was treated more like an accident, secondary to revealing Daddy #2 has a temper.

Speaking of, that's something I really did like. Telling the movie from the kid's perspective, the small reveals that tell the whole story of her discovering his drinking, without ever having to see it, really worked. Not seeing big events the kid doesn't see works. Not seeing the big events that are actually happening to the kid, kills the movie for me.

I really want to take some time to be positive. A lot about this movie's conception was very clever. It works for the format that this family is very unstable. Outside the main four actors, everything and everyone changes. Come back a year later to find the house gone? Fine, mom sold the house and got a new one. Still fits in the realm of this movie. Locations can change, cast can change. It was a genius stroke to pull off this impossible feat.

And let's talk about Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. Obviously, the experienced actors were the anchors. More than that, though, they really maintained those characters for 12 years, and kept them grounded, despite 12 years of life changes. Arquette is getting a lot of the attention, but I found Hawke to be more poignant. His character parellels his real life. He's an actor who was once a cool heart-throb, and now he's an aged actor well beyond his prime. The movie, and his performance, captures that just as well as the kid growing up.

For all I've said, and all I'm going to say, I really do give Linklater a lot of credit. I really can't think of one of his movie's I've really enjoyed, but that's my subjective opinion. My problems with this movie are all about what ended up on screen, and I just happen to not like it, but that does not diminish the achievement.

Having said that, there is still so much more I do not like about this movie. I get it's low-budget, but I did not like the cinematography for much of the movie. There is one wide shot when they go visit Annie's parents where I found the lighting and composition particularly terrible. It just stuck out. Speaking of this scene, another example of a missed opportunity. Mason gets a fucking gun that never comes back. Like all major story setups in this movie, it's swept under the rug by a line of dialogue; Mason Sr. will conveniently take the gun out of the movie's orbit (and put the lethal weapon closer to his baby, cuz that's safe)

Also, hated the singing. The movie could have been at least 15-30 minutes shorter without it.

Speaking of shortening the movie, this is where the gimmick butts right up against the potential good movie inside here. (let me remind you, good is subjective. I did not think this was a good movie, and you might, and that's great, but I don't) Right up front, the concept is 12 years in a life. I don't know about your childhood, but some years of my life were just boring. Would the movie really have suffered if they had glossed over some stuff? I honestly cannot remember the years in the movie I would cut out because they were that forgettable.

It's also a pacing issue. Looking back at childhood, a big part of it is this sense that when you're young, life feels endless, but then as you get older, time starts moving faster. You're not 6-years-old anymore; a year is no longer a full sixth of your life. You're 18, and a year is only 5% of your life. Time movies faster. Suddenly you're in high school. Suddenly you have to apply to college. Suddenly you have to think about your future. Suddenly you graduate. Suddenly you have to leave home. Suddenly you're not a kid anymore. Imagine if the pacing of the movie had captured that.

Boom, he meets a girl. Boom, he and the girl are totally in love. Boom, they're broken up.

Around the time of the movie I was just waiting for the next time jump, this would have helped so much. It would have given the end of the movie a sense of finality. Patricia Arquette could win an Oscar for the scene where she cries at his leaving. I don't know about you, but that scene felt like every other scene where a mom cries over her last child leaving for college. Imagine if the pace of the movie had picked up and we, like her, felt that in a blink of an eye, the kid was already going off to college.

But we couldn't get that because the concept of the movie is 12 years in this kid's life. Every time jump had to have some weight to it, almost as though the pacing of the movie as a whole doesn't matter.

I read an article that talked about how the best movie actors are the ones who seem to have total understanding of their own bodies. They know how every facial twitch, every movement, every vocal inflection affects their performance. It's how even the clunkiest dialogue in this movie becomes natural in the hands of Arquette and Hawke, but seems even clunkier in the kid's hands.

It's also something, I think, Linklater lacks. He truly is an artist. I give this movie a lot of credit simply for inspiring me to sit and write this. But this movie feels like he lacks the total understanding of his own body. He had an amazing vision, but he seems to lack the self-reflection to really make it work. To me, if you're going to have an unseasoned child actor deliver what are supposed to be the most important lines of the movie, you need them to be amazingly well-written. Linklater can clearly put a screenplay together, but he is not a top-tier screen writer. A good dialogue polish would have helped this movie tremendously. I would think a director of his experience would know how horribly most child actors deliver even the best lines.

At the very least, he had the fore-thought to make Mason a kid of few words. Unfortunately, as he discovered his voice later in the film, the cracks in the writing started to show as an actor of limited experience tried to make them sound like things a person would say.

But again, it's easy to criticize. It's a fine movie, and how it got made is very cool. But judging it solely on what's on screen, I feel like I've seen similarly low-budget films with stronger story, better cinematography, better writing, and better acting. And I hope it doesn't win Best Picture. If Oscars were judged based on achievement, "Avatar" would have won. But "Avatar" just proves that no matter how much effort an ingenuity happens behind the scenes, if the movie isn't great, it doesn't deserve to be called Best Picture.

My vote, "Grand Budapest Hotel." As movies are all a subjective experience, feel free to comment ways you think GBH was lacking in ways you think "Boyhood" was not.

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