As a fan of Richard Linklater I was pumped to finally get a chance to view Boyhood back in July. Since then, I have kept my thoughts regarding the film to myself. However, with the talk of Oscar buzz, it's time to go public with my unpopular opinion.
Boyhood was good. But, Boyhood was not great.
To borrow a term from the corporate world, it is important to "manage expectations." The adjectives being carelessly thrown around to describe the film (masterpiece, epic, astonishing) have done nothing to keep movie-goers expectations in check.
Independent film is important for the art world. It is something that not everyone wants to be a part of, however it is welcoming to those who do want to give it a shot. So when film critics declare that an independent film is a "must-see" and it is the "best movie of the year," movie-goers that typically will not spend their money at an art-house theater suddenly have a reason to give a small film their attention. Imagine their disappointment when two hours into the movie, they are wondering why it hasn't ended yet. Or why they know only surface information about a main character. Or worse, when they leave and are still unsure of the point of the film. What are the chances that the next time a critic raves about an independent, they will give it a second thought?
I make a conscious effort to support independent film and because of that, I take issue with the way Boyhood has been spotlighted as I believe it is working against the industry by promising things to an audience that it doesn't deliver.
There are four major issues with Boyhood:
- There is a lack of depth in the film. Because we cover so much time in Mason's life, we never really get to know him. Watching Boyhood is like seeing a visual representation of someone's diary or better yet an in-depth calendar. All the main events in this person's life are documented, however unless this stranger is highly self-aware it is doubtful that you would get a real understanding of how these events shaped their psyche and contributed to their future actions. We should have seen how Mason's broken family affected his actions. How the horrible treatment of his mother throughout the film affected his relationships. What drives Mason to do the things he does. We are along for the ride, but most times when riding shotgun you are provided a map. Linklater dropped the ball on that.
- It's fitting that Mason's Mom and Dad do not have character names. While both roles were acted wonderfully, again we know very little about them. Since Dad is a part-time dad, it is acceptable that his character is not highly developed. We don't expect to get to know Dad very well and we don't. What we do know is that he is likable and cares about his children. Mom, on the other hand, is a much larger part of the story. We see her being treated horribly by man after man. We see her struggle and cry and continue to make the same mistakes. But we never understand why it is that she falls back into the same kind of relationships. Even worse, we never see her grow. Again and again the audience sees things happen TO her. We see no cause and we see no effect. All we see is the action. Mom is a character that could have been much more well-rounded and perhaps endearing to the audience. Something that was sorely needed.
- It is impressive that this film took 12 years to film. Visually, it is beautiful to watch someone grow in front of our eyes. It is important to keep in mind however, that if so much stock is going to be placed in how innovative it is to watch an actor and character grow from boy to man in the realm of one story, I have two words for you: Harry Potter.
- Not too long ago, I tweeted about how much it bothered me when people use the word "indulgent" to describe an actors' performance or a directors' vision. After watching Boyhood, I finally understand how that term can be fitting. Perhaps it is that I am older now than I was when I loved Dazed and Confused, or when I thought that Slacker and Waking LIfe were mind-blowing, but for whatever reason the film left me feeling as though Linklater wrote it for himself. On top of that, the angst that he portrayed so well in the previously stated films feels precocious now. It doesn't come of the screen well in Boyhood.
Do I think Boyhood should win an Oscar? No. Do I think Boyhood will win an Oscar? It is possible. I just hope that if it does, movie-goers don't think that it is the best that independent film has to offer.