Film #134: Boyhood (2014)

bhDirector: Richard Linklater
Language: English and some Spanish
Length: 165 minutes
Watched on: 22 Dec 2014

When I first heard about this film, Richard Linklater’s magnum opus, it was probably years ago. Its conceit is that it was shot over a period of twelve years, using the same actors – so I think it’s fair to say that the rumour mill has been churning for some time. At first I think I actually assumed that it was a kind of documentary, but it is in fact, apart from the unorthodox method of delivery, a relatively straight-up fiction, albeit one that is heavily character-focused.

I don’t think it’s quite fair to say that nothing happens in the plot – there are a couple of messy divorces, for example, but because the story is told in chunks, usually skipping ahead a few months at a time, key events often happen off-screen. This means that, in the case of the divorces, for instance, we see the events leading up to them and the aftermath, but the divorce itself is more like a footnote. 

For the most part, given the piecemeal nature of the movie, it’s not the events that matter, but the characters and atmosphere. That’s not to say, however, that the events are boring or unimpressive, or that the plot is non-existent. One other work I was reminded of was Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, another lengthy work featuring an abusive stepfather in the second act, and an inquisitive, introverted young boy protagonist.

I like to think that a few years from now, we’ll be looking back on works like this and extolling the zeitgeist they invoke of the early part of this century. Much of it is like a chronicle of the 2000s and early 2010s, in terms of style and music. To me the most obvious point where this was detectable was hearing music. Going into 2012 there was a scene where we could hear Gotye playing in the background, for example. Early on in the narrative several of the characters are discussing the Iraq war. Things like this mean that the work already is acting like a period piece, so it will be interesting to watch it back in another ten years’ time, to see if this kind of effect has increased.

On the other hand, the acting is rather iffy, to be blunt. The main character, the son of the family, is quite wooden for most of the movie, in particular. But I wonder if, like Tintin before him, his passive presence through most of the movie allows the audience to insert themselves in his position more easily, leading them to focus on the other, more vibrant characters. Aside from him, there are some great performances, and I’m glad to hear that Patricia Arquette received an Oscar for her role as the downtrodden mother.

For me personally, I liked the atmosphere of the movie, and I enjoyed the unique conceit. I also identified a lot with certain events in the story – not the abusive part, thankfully, but many aspects of the family depicted in Boyhood were recognizable to me. But I would also point out that I found the film a little bland, and somewhat sanitized. An adjective that I’ve heard used for it and think is the most appropriate is “nice”. It’s not “great”, but “nice” is a good way to describe it. I’ve also heard that it misrepresents the racial makeup of Texas – having never been there, I couldn’t possibly say, but there’s a suspicious lack of Latino people on the whole.

So it certainly has flaws – that’s not a comprehensive list. But at a pinch, I think I’d name it my favourite movie of 2014, because overall I did like it and was emotionally affected by it, despite being underwhelmed. It doesn’t quite scratch up to an all-time favourites list, though. It was nice, that’s all.

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