We know what is good about Boyhood. This is one of the best films of the year, and perhaps, one of the best American films in recent years. The film’s greatest success, I think, is how Linklater assembled events across 12 years into a coherent narrative and, for the most part, collected the events against the grain of monumental history. 12 years of possible situations is a vast expanse of time and space. Linklater not only gave us the key moments that were transformative for Mason and his family, but took a bit of time to rejoice in the ephemeral moments of childhood and adolescence (e.g., finding a dead bird and awkward teenager romance).
There are three negative things that need to be said about the film. The first is simply the lack of reflexivity. When Linklater appears as a charcter (I think) – in a diner as a professor speaking to himself – the director Linklater could have linked us back to Before Sunrise’s cafe scene. When Mason and Sheena ask what all those people were doing there at 3am, the answer could have been shown through several shots, a la Before Sunrise, in which the audience is privy to the patron’s conversations. I also missed Linklater’s long, strolling conversations. While this is more difficult with a child actor, we don’t really see this until the very end of the film. Ethan Hawke appearing more or less as his character from the Before… movies could’ve made for interesting reflections on those earlier films as well. The are numerous others examples I could give here. (Of course, there was the same actor from Dazed and Confused as the clerk.)
The film was also very quick. On the one hand, this was an excellent aesthetic choice. 12 years fly by and I certainly did not feel as through 3 hours passed in the cinema. I was entertained, fully, for the entire movie. On the other hand, some silences, longer dialogue, and longer takes seem appropriate.
More importantly, while I certainly praise Linklater’s selection of moments to depict, I didn’t appreciate the under-representation of sexuality. For me, as you can tell from my blog posts, sex and the cinema go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Part of adolescence is sexual, if not a large part. Linklater sidesteps this by briefly showing Mason making-out on his 15th birthday and Samantha mentioning she had lots of fun in college. But the ways in which wet dreams, masturbation, and my first sexual encounters haunt my memories will be missing for Mason (perhaps a good thing). I understand that any hint or scene might have pushed the rating over the edge (perhaps to an R here in Canada), but I still feel a little cheated; a film called Boyhood, about boyhood, neglects the central character’s sexuality. Although, the young boys looking at lingerie models and later at pornography, sparked some funny memories for me. These scenes were headed in the right direction, but a clever director could have done more while still keeping it a 14A feature. Putting Mason’s sexual preference/orientation into question on a number of occasions is perhaps an American thing. It seemed pointless to me.
Even with these faults, the film is a gem. It needs to be watched and re-watched, and I expect with each viewing, I’ll see things that I initially missed. Boyhood is worthy of all its praise – I just wanted to say something a little different.