Monday, February 2, 2015

I Saw Boyhood So That You Won't Have To

I don’t think I’ve ever been more at odds with my favorite movie critics — Andrew O’Hehir, Stephanie Zacharek, Ty Burr, Mick LaSalle, and David Edelstein — than I am about Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, whose average score on Metacritic is 100. As in, out of 100. 

“I'm as reluctant to stop writing about this movie,” wrote LaSalle, who’s been an idol of mine since the laties, “as I was to stop watching it: At 166 minutes, it flies by, and you don't want to leave that world.

“Linklater makes this tale of ordinary American family dysfunction … into something transcendent and universal,” marvels O’Hehir.

I’m not saying Boyhood is the greatest film I’ve ever seen, “ admits Edelstein, “but I’m thinking there’s my life before I saw it and my life now, and it’s different; I know movies can do something that just last week I didn’t. They can make time visible."

“Boyhood,” gushes Zacharek, “had the curious effect of making me feel lost, uneasy, a little alone in the inexorable march forward — and also totally, emphatically alive.”

Boy, do I not get it. Boyhood made me feel very much less alive —drowsy with boredom. I liked it a little bit more than Terence Malick's roughly comparable Tree of Life, but I didn't like Terence Malick's roughly comparable Tree of Life one darned bit.

I’m not disputing that the movie’s unusual. Rather than a succession of ever-older actors portraying the child stars, it presents the same young actors aging before our eyes over the course of the 12 years the movie covers. (The great irony being that the 18-year-old Mason bears so little resemblance to the six-year-old we meet at the beginning that they might just as well be different actors.) The movie’s also unusually boring, and defiantly unengaging. I didn’t feel much of anything for any of the characters except in the scene in which our hero’s mother’s self-delighted second husband reveals himself to be a scary drunk, and that in which he discovers that his father doesn’t remember having promised him his muscle car. 

Linklater cast his daughter as Mason’s elder sister, Samantha. She’s reasonably talented, but I was reminded of Francis Coppola having cast his daughter Sofia as Kathleen Turner’s little sister in Peggy Sue Got Married even though the swarthy Sofia could hardly have been more southern Italian-looking, or Turner any WASPier. I found it impossible to take on faith that Mason and Samantha emerged from the same womb, and grew from seeds from the same papa. Strain my credulity in small ways like that, Ms. or Mr. Filmmaker, and I’m disinclined to suspend disbelief in bigger ways. You've been warned!

There’s a high school scene, in which two bullies bully Mason in the boys’ room, that might have told us volumes about the sort of man Mason will eventually become, but Ellar Coltrane (Mason) underplays it to the point at which the scene tells us nothing at all; his reaction is essentially not to react. Was Linklater still at lunch when it was shot? Very near the end of the movie’s 165 minutes, which seem like many, many more, Mason, driving himself away to college, stops for gas, and how’s that for high drama? He doesn’t interact with anyone, but does find interesting as photographic subjects a couple of objects near the gas station. I couldn’t for the life of me see why. The whole movie writ large —scenes that seem to be about nothing at all, and increase our understanding of nothing, and would have seemed to cry out to the filmmaker Richard Linklater, “Cut me, quick!”

The last half-hour of Boyhood becomes really boring, as Mason turns into an intelligent, introspective teenager. There is nothing on earth more tiresome than an intelligent, introspective teenager whose parent you are not.

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