Boyhood: Film Review

A guest post by CAFE member Paul Coulombe

I truly wanted to love Linklater’s exceptionally reviewed Boyhood but l left the theatre loving certain cinematic elements, scratching my head at others and overall…only liking it.  Upon writing this review I felt somehow like a “wrong” or lonely fish swimming against the opposing stream of flawless reviews.  But my wife said the same thing.  So now there are two. 

The innovative creation of over 12 years using the same cast was really amazing, and it made the need for grey hair spray and caked makeup truly unnecessary.  I had never seen a movie filmed like that before and it reminded me of the Seven Up Series.

 The first part was the strongest and I loved the opening scene starting with the wonder of a boy staring at the sky, the dream in his eyes and I wondered too what obstacles and loves lied ahead for this kid.  In fact the first 30 minutes I laughed and marveled at how real this was reflective of child rearing and parenting in general.

It’s fascinating to watch the kids grow physically, emotionally and see their personalities develop but despite that there seemed something lacking and almost hollow about them…as if I never got to know them fully.

Ethan Hawke played the best role in the movie in my opinion, the biological father who was an engaging, likable, far-from-perfect guy real often bouncing into a scene like Tigger might.    The Mom played by Patricia Arquette was strong and I felt like I knew her and her suffering and joys but seemed to have that (daze?) that both kids also mirrored.

And now the not so good points.   I wanted more of a story.  Don’t get me wrong; I do not like action movies or cookie cutter Hollywood films that wrap a predictable plot up nicely in 120 minutes.   I do in fact like slow movies that can meander and depict the ambiguities and complexities of life but I like to see evolution!  I wanted more characters that need to develop and struggle and change andovercome despite and this cast seemed to float along with circumstances like jellyfish, especially Coltrain himself. 

I kept wondering…

What are their philosophies?

What were they profoundly affected by?

What are their dreams and fears? (besides the conceptualizing that Coltrain does about our world and technology and freedoms which are not original.)

The exception to this stagnation is Ethan Hawke who through a decade of finding himself the hard way evolves into a caring and devoted Dad for his new born, and a rock for others.  It was clear he casted aside his young self-centered, lifestyle including his beloved muscle car and embraces a solid father figure; a sensitive, passionate and loving guy without losing his buoyant and strong male energy. 

The second husband was more of a quick creation almost shoved into the script to add some acute conflict.  For no reason this mild-mannered professor begins wolfing down a 40 oz bottle of (scotch?) completing a 180 degree turn in personality, and becoming  abusive in an unbelievable and over-controlling manner.  I’m still not sure what happened to his original two kids either?  

Men and boys in general were portrayed as the selfish, dysfunctional, and/or directionless gender who add little value, leaving that part instead to the responsible, ever patient and compassionate females of the movie.  We see this bias every day in our regular media and I thought “Boyhood” may attempt to buck that tired stereotype…but… no.   It’s more of the “shame” with this.  The 2nd husband’s spiral became silly, almost cliché, as if the writer needed a drunk wife beater to “drive home” the theme that men are not just valueless but naturally dangerous to women and kids.   Sorry…some are…yes…but we all know the statistics on domestic violence like this are 50/50.

That aside…I was left with some nagging questions.

What was the real struggle? Even though there was lots of it…what was the crucible? How did they change from the cauldron of their own suffering?  Was there suffering?  Or  just numbing out in that familiar shrugged,  Millenial manner.

Will Mason finally grow up, and look people in the eye?

 Will he and his sister “snap out of it” and form opinions that reflect them? 

Will he grow and learn from this? Will he become vulnerable and take risks?  

Will he enunciate?   I was so happy when husband # 3 pointed that he was always mumbling!

Perhaps brother and sister are already fully actualized humans and struggle with neither of the above, but as a viewer I would never know that.

I enjoyed one piercing existentialist observation from Mom toward the end when her son was moving out.  It was real and I felt it viscerally as I’m sure all parents do when each milestone of our life is completed and the nest empties and we are forced to contemplate our dwindling mortality.   “I just thought there would be more” she sobbed.   

I do agree.

Paul Coulombe