Watching Richard Linklater's Boyhood one can't help imagining what Girlhood would have been like. Is such a follow up project in the works? At the end of the movie a young woman who Mason (Ellar Coltrane) the protagonist, whose childhood and early adulthood are followed over 12 years, has befriended remarks, "Everyone always says seize the moment, but it's just the opposite, the moment seizes us." It's a wonderful signature piece of dialogue that both limns a character and defines Linklater's project.
In another scene Mason tells his girlfriend "When they decided it was too expensive to build cyborgs and robots they decided to let humans just turn themselves into robots." Take your pick one gem follows another.
From the moment that husband number two orders that second bottle of wine at dinner, we know that trouble is brewing. Then there are the historical footprints to which the emotional lives of the characters are inextricably attached: crowds of kids waiting in costume for the release of a Harry Potter book, the Iraq war, the excitement of the first Obama/Biden campaign. Linklater's talent, like that of a short story writer, lies in capturing characters with one or two strokes, in this case pans of the camera. From there, despite whatever extemporization might have occurred during the filmmaking, a determinism takes over and the disquisition is predictable and even longwinded at times.
Anyone who has seen his trilogy, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight knows the technique of following the actor's creation of a persona (Ethan Hawke ,whose character's evolution is traced in the Sunrise, Sunset and Midnight films, is brought back to play Mason's father in Boyhood). Under the guise of Boyhood's documentary realism, rendered by a quasi cinema verite style, Linklater is really a sentimentalist with a penchant for painful feel good set pieces which verge on the soap operatic.
Not surprisingly his central character's interest turns out to be photography (perhaps this is a case of a character mirroring its creator -- of art imitating life imitating art). But when you put the metaphoric embryo in its petrie dish how do you dictate a beginning a middle and an end? It may not be life itself. However, the director is creating a fiction whose source lies in the biological development of a real person. The maturation of an individual (being turned into an actor who's ostensibly becoming acclimated to a role) is what the film follows. It's the dominating concept. And it's as if the Linklater's strategy overwhelms the film itself. The choices seem almost arbitrary in their nod to reality and overly factitious in their attempt to impose esthetic order and meaning over the kind of digital scrapbook of images which reside in the average person's computer. At the end Patricia Arquette, who plays the mother, cries "I thought there would be more," about the "series of milestones" Boyhood describes. Despite the film's ambitious agglomeration of detail, it leaves a number of loose ends and the discomforting sense that something is ultimately missing.
This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}