Movie Review: ‘Boyhood’

boyhoodtop I’m often asked what makes a great movie.  More specifically, what do I look for in a film in order to assign it a high letter-grade?  Parts of these questions are easy to answer objectively, while other portions remain more elusive and subjective–byproducts of my feelings, perceptions and whims. First, great acting can’t overcome a poorly written script and blah storyline.  Likewise, a wonderful plot with substandard acting performances–particularly in the leading parts–are dinged pretty hard in my electronic grade book.  After all, movies are about the suspension of disbelief for 2 to 3 hours of entertainment using escapism ideals such as hope, realism, joy, suspense, and wonderment.  Each fully achieved by convincing the moviegoers that what they’re actually seeing is perhaps true, but, at least possible.  Lastly, and arguably the most important, a successful film to me invokes an emotion of some kind from its stars and events; either laughter, sadness, euphoria, motivation, suspense, horror, shock or romance, just to name a few.  I compare how I felt going into the theater to how I feel leaving it.  That’s the only true way to judge a movie’s influence and grade the merits of the overall narrative–quickly, but fairly.

“Boyhood” contains exceptional acting performances by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke–both deservedly earning Academy Award nominations, along with the film’s director Richard Linklater and an overall Oscar Best Picture hat-tip.  The movie’s unique and unusual filming of the main cast over a 12-year time period, sets it apart from other big-screen motion pictures.

boyhood2 The story begins with a 6-year old boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane), in 2002, living with his mother (Arquette), sister (Lorelei Linklater, daughter of the film’s director) and deadbeat, divorced father (Hawke) at different times.

I was as fascinated as anyone by the 12-year filming manifesto and seeing the cast mature together, grow apart at times, and even graduate high school and enter college. Collectively, all transpiring right before my very eyes.  In mea culpa and full-disclosure mode, I’m also the type who enjoys finding out what Marcia Brady and Danny Partridge look like in today’s world, many years removed from their 1970s classic TV shows “The Brady Bunch” and “Partridge Family” respectively.

This quirky evolution of the Evans family in “Boyhood” is both interesting and novel, but not enough to garner an above-average grade entirely by itself. This film’s outstanding acting from Arquette and Hawke create the notion of realism in their dysfunctional family.  In fact, most of “Boyhood” appears, sounds and feels like a reality show or documentary–a “Keeping Up With The Evans“, per se.   But realism established by the captivating performances of Arquette and Hawke, combined with a 12-year time-capsule on a movie reel, doesn’t make “Boyhood” an exceptional storyline. boyhood “Boyhood” provides a very realistic look into one family’s many problems–most of which could be found amongst nearly any kin, neighborhood, grade school or even small town.  Issues addressed dealt with alcoholism, divorce, and single-parenting as data starting points.  It also admirably tackles the difficulties presented with commonplace blended family members and teenager’s rebellious attitudes, drug use, and underage drinking.

These ordinary life experiences make “Boyhood” feel real to moviegoers and allows viewers to identify with the characters and their circumstances.  But is that enough? Meh.

How did this film affect me differently at the movie’s finish line, than it did at its starting point?  Not much.  Parts of the movie struck me as shocking and sad.  Other segments drilled home the feeling of despair and discouragement.  Mostly, it left me feeling and thinking “So what?”  Or “Who cares?”  The film “Boyhood” felt like a compilation of an E! Reality TV show’s episodes just before its series finale airs…all to illustrate how far the family has travelled to get where they are today.  I get it, 12-years of aging matures and changes every person’s life.  Who doesn’t like the comparison photos of a U.S. president entering and leaving the White House after their term ends? Gray hair and wrinkled foreheads, but by and large, the same men. “Boyhood” allows viewers to identify with particular characters and see them along a timeline each of us can relate to and visibly see their changes.  In the end, though, this film feels like it injects the sameness it began the movie with.  Same people, just older.  Same problems, just more complicated.  And the gray hair and wrinkled foreheads will come soon.  Stay tuned.

Grade: C


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