This boy’s life
Are you getting the feeling that Boyhood is going to win the Best Picture Oscar on Sunday?
We just caught it on DVD the other night(s) (it’s long!), ready to be wowed. It took several weeks for Netflix to ship it to us — because of the high demand — so our expectations were stratospheric. But guess what?
We were disappointed.
It’s impossible to throw spoilers at you here, since the movie doesn’t have any plot points that can be spoiled. In case you haven’t heard about it or seen it yet yourself, the conceit is that director Richard Linklater used the same kid actor to depict slices of life from the age of 6 to 18. The adult actors, including Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as the boy’s divorced parents, also committed to the 12-year project, and it really is fascinating to watch all parties change over time (although the sister, played by Linklater’s real-life daughter, Lorelei, seems eerily not to age at all as the movie rolls on and on).
This is just the kind of innovative and inspiring approach to art I really like to see. Something new. Something challenging and revolutionary. Never done before. But to my casual critic’s eye, Linklater failed to use the idea to maximum effect and lost an exciting opportunity.
In a way, and I think as other people have pointed out, he took Michael Apted’s idea behind the Seven Up series and fictionalized it. If you’ve been a fan of those films, you can see how Boyhood might have been the perfect vehicle for doing what they aren’t able to do: go into penetrating detail about a child’s life as he grows up rather than scratching the surface as Apted has had to do because of the number of participants. Instead, Linklater keeps things on a pretty superficial level, and Mason, the boy, matures into a drifting figure who seems blandly detached from everything but his vague interest in photography. He’s an empty vessel, even though there’s little in the movie to provide some kind of foundation for that outcome. His parents are interesting, engaged, and, even though flawed, loving and supportive of him. (Any dad who tries to explain The Beatles to a millennial kid has his heart in the right place.)
This is one of the rare occasions these last few years when I’ve actually seen a couple of the Best Picture nominees. In a perfect world you’d have to hope Selma would win and American Sniper would quickly fade into obscurity, but I have this sneaky feeling that Boyhood has the inside track despite its shortcomings.
And maybe that’s okay, after all. Somebody tried something daring, and artists should get points for that.
What do you think?