Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

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?

7 comments on “This boy’s life

  1. Dylan Hearn
    February 20, 2015

    I saw Boyhood the other night and really enjoyed it. I think part of the reason might be because I have two young sons, one about the age of Mason at the beginning of the film. The other was because I knew so little about it. i wasn’t aware of all the buzz so I wasn’t expecting major things (other than it was a Richard Linklater film and he usually produces the goods).
    The thing I enjoyed the most about it was that it never entered the area of melodrama. I thought it was subtle, well thought out and beautifully put together.

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 20, 2015

      There was a lot to admire about this film, I agree. I liked the way the transitions from one time to another were seamless, which made for an interesting effect. And I’m with you in praising that it didn’t go melodramatic on us.

      Is it Oscar-worthy? We’ll find out!

  2. Karen
    February 20, 2015

    I wonder if your opinion of the movie will change over time. It’s a movie that stayed with me, and I thought (and talked) about it a lot. And I think it’s a really beautiful film, the performances are very understated, and it creates this contemplative mood that absolutely permeated the theater, and, as I said, stayed with me for days afterward.

    And I have to disagree that Linklater keeps things on a “superficial” level–the emotions that roil underneath the surface in so many scenes (and are voiced in Arquette’s final scene) are deep and long-lasting.

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 20, 2015

      Hmmm, I wonder if seeing this particular movie in a theater accounts for our difference of opinion. It reminds me of seeing a Terrence Malick movie in a theater vs at home. Somehow, a lot of the time, it’s a completely different experience, and the audience in a theater has a lot to do with that. Not to mention the big-screen effect.

      I certainly won’t argue with your take. It’s possible I’ll come around, after another viewing, maybe. Or, like Dylan said, the hype can build up wild expectations that are impossible to meet.

      Didn’t you think Mason turned into quite the bland, blank slate though? Those two parents would have created a real personality in him, I’d have thought…

      Thanks for chiming in!

      • Karen
        February 21, 2015

        I think you’re spot on with your perception of the character of Mason. He is this tabula rasa (as we all are) taking the steps toward adulthood, absorbing what is going on around him. It is no coincidence that he takes to photography–he’s an observer. That final, perfect scene (Spoiler alert!) where the girl he’s with practically begs him to kiss her, and all he does is smile and quietly agree, that yes, one should seize the moment, but he does not. I have a feeling you probably wanted to shake him and say, “Kiss her, you fool!” 😉

        I watched Birdman last night. I don’t know how I feel about it. Did you see it?

      • Kevin Brennan
        February 21, 2015

        Yes, that last scene was especially infuriating! I was screaming, “You don’t get many chances like this, dude! Go for the gusto!”

        I think what’s missing for me in Mason are two important things: an inviting persona (he’s neither happy nor sad) and a sense of catharsis. He’s a chunk of flotsam just bobbing on the water. Maybe a sequel is in order? 😝

        Haven’t seen Birdman yet, but it looks interesting. I’ve loved Iñárritu’s other stuff, though.

  3. 1WriteWay
    February 22, 2015

    Haven’t seen Boyhood yet and it’s likely when we do, it will be at home. I don’t really enjoy going to theaters anymore. I haven’t been the same after getting sick during The Blairwitch Project and then again watching Scorsese’s film of the Rolling Stones at the iMAX. Now the smell of buttered popcorn is enough to make my stomach flip. I know … TMI. Still, as you say, the movie should get some credit for doing something different. If it falls flat, I doubt it’s for lack of trying.

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