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He Said, She Said Review Site

Boyhood

What She said:

She

I was driving in to work this morning when I received the big news from last night. Boyhood had taken the honor of Best Motion Picture – Drama at the 2015 Golden Globe Awards. I had been awake long enough to see that the director, Richard Linklater, had been recognized for his work, but I honestly didn’t make it to the end of the awards presentation to witness the movie itself win big.

I’m telling you this not because I think you care in the least about my sleep schedule. I’m making light of the fact that this movie has been received with some serious critical acclaim. Even before watching the film, I knew that it clocked in at a 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and registered an astounding score of 100 on Metacritic. In fact, Richard Roeper apparently gave the movie an A+ and called it one of the greatest he had ever seen. While I thought that Boyhood was a novel undertaking, and had some really interesting components, I’m not sure I’d call it a classic. It certainly isn’t anything I’m planning to write home about (note to my parents, don’t expect any letters about this one).

Boyhood

The movie tells the story of a boy, Mason, and his family. It begins when Mason is just six years old. He is living with his mother, Olivia, and very bratty older sister Samantha. Olivia is overworked and exhausted, trying to juggle all that comes with life as a single mother. She decides that it would be best for her to move the family closer to her mother so that she can go back to college and try to make a new future for them.

We fastforward a year or so and are reintroduced to Mason and his family and their new life. Olivia is in school and Mason’s father, Mason, Sr., has recently resurfaced. He had been largely out of the picture, living and working in Alaska while the rest of the family is in Texas, but he has moved back and is looking to set roots permanently closer to his children. Mason, Sr. earns weekend custody of the children, and the viewer begins to see him establish a real relationship with the kids.

As we fastforward again, we learn that Olivia has fallen for one of her professor’s Bill, who brings with him two children of his own from a previous family. The now blended family lives in a much larger and luxurious house, but it’s clear that the situation is not ideal. Bill is an alcoholic who spirals out of control and becomes abusive. After a few years, Olivia grows tired of Bill’s drinking and his strict parenting style, and so she takes Mason and Sam and leaves him.

In the meantime, the kids continue to bond with their father, Mason, Sr., as he begins to create a better life for himself as well. He takes them out camping and bowling, and steps up as a more stable role model. He remains a musician at heart and has a bit of a leftist mentality, but you can tell he’s taking his parenting responsibilities very seriously, even if they are only on the weekends.

By the time Mason is 13, the family has moved again. Olivia is now a popular psychology professor, and she ends up marrying one of her students, a war veteran. As usual, things are not going well for Olivia in her new marriage, and it ultimately falls apart once again.

Boyhood

These are the most important years for Mason, and things are picking up for him at school. Girls are taking interest, he’s developed a passion for photography, and he’s started partying. He does things in junior high and high school that I would never have dreamed of when I was his age, but his mother has a tendency to be pretty hands-off with her parenting, instead encouraging Mason to do his best and follow his interests. Mason is not a very strong student, and as he moves through high school, he is continually scolded for not taking his schoolwork seriously. But he is a talented photographer.

As he moves closer to graduation, Mason falls head over heels for a girl Sheena, who eventually breaks his heart. He also wins a scholarship for college. Mason, Sr., has remarried and has a very white collar job and a small child. His wife is super conservative and comes from a religious family, and so he’s turned into the opposite of who he once was. With both kids now in college, empty-nester Olivia decides to return to her roots. She puts her house on the market and downsizes into a small apartment. She has always been defined by her struggle as a mother, and she finds herself now without that burden. It’s overwhelming and she seems to feel lost. Mason makes new friends at college and finally feels free to explore life on his own. The end.

This film is certainly a journey and a feat of production. It is unique in that it was filmed over the span of 12 years using the same cast, including the actor who played Mason. And so we get to see everyone age naturally from year to year. This helps to create a very authentic experience, and I think that this point is what the critics latch on to when they sing Boyhood’s praises. This truly is a one-of-a-kind movie.

Now, while I loved the concept here, I thought it created some challenges for the story that were difficult to overcome. Really, how do you sum up 12 years in 165 minutes? I heard somewhere that this filmed was originally much, much longer—like 6 or 8 hours long. But they trimmed it down significantly so that it could be released to the masses. What we end up with is a collection of milestones from one family’s life. To me, this makes everything feel a little disjointed. It doesn’t help that they’re not milestones that I can very easily relate to. I grew up in your stereotypical married family of four, and I did not act out in high school the way that Mason does. His character had a very different experience from mine.

I felt like we started to lose track of the sister, Sam, as the story progressed. I think she was also an unfortunate casualty of the limited time window we had to work with. As Mason’s social life at school becomes more prominent, Sam sort of fades to the background. I won’t complain too much about this because, frankly, she was a pretentious brat who was very unlikable, so no loss there. In addition, I didn’t feel like the actress who portrayed her, Lorelei Linklater (daughter of the director), was all that fabulous. She went back and forth between over acting and being completely void of any emotion.

Boyhood

While Mason ended up being very unrelateable to me, I do think that Ellar Coltrane did a good job portraying the character. I wondered how much was scripted and how much was actually molded around him and his personal journey through adolescence. Mason and Ellar sort of seem like they might be the same person. This might just be me, because of the person I am, but I also didn’t really like who he grew into. I was disappointed by the fact that both children seemed to be self-centered and borderline irrational at times.

I didn’t love Olivia’s parenting style, but I think that Patricia Arquette did a wonderful job with the character. Her acting was spot-on throughout the film, and I know this must have been a pretty lofty undertaking. You have to consider that someone is revisiting the same character for just a few weeks every year over the course of more than a decade. In the meantime, circumstances within their own life are changing, and they may be growing further and further from who their on-screen character is. Arquette gave continuity to Olivia that was noble, and was successful in making her a very real character to watch. Likewise, I thought that Ethan Hawke was also very good as Mason, Sr., even though his character changes so much over the course of the film. He, too, was solid in creating someone who can be easily understood as real.

Overall, I cannot say that I loved or hated this film. I give it a lot of credit for what it achieved, but I do not think that it did so without faults. The story lacked any real narrative flow, and instead was more of a collection of moments—a glimpse into the journal of Mason. It gave you some things to think about, but those points felt somewhat contrived and forced.

I think back at this long banner that used to hang above the Physics and Chemistry classrooms in my old high school. It said, “Deep thoughts run shallow.” Honestly, I never really understood what was intended by it, and we can all take what we will from the quote, but I like to think it relates to this film in some way. Maybe they didn’t need to try so hard to blow our minds—to dig so deep. Something just a little more genuine would have probably had greater impact.

Thumbs half up.

Boyhood

What He said:

He
Boyhood

People have been talking about this movie for a little while now. You know how certain movies build up buzz on the film festival circuit and it’s sort of just assumed it will be nominated for awards? I’m not sure why people at festivals seem to have this power, but they do. They declare something good and so it was written. Anyway, this is one of those movies. A big reason, if not the lone one, it’s been getting so much attention is because of how the movie was made. In case you were not aware, this was filmed over a period of 12 years and yes the same actors were used over that time period.

The year is 2002. Six-year old Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his older sister Sam (Lorelei Linklater)live with their mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette). Mason overhears his mom arguing with her boyfriend. He stops by to pick her up and take her to one of his friend’s house, but she is unable to go because the baby sitter cancels. He goes without her and argues with her about it when he returns. He blames her children for her being unable to go, and the state of their relationship in general, and the two break up.

This is the final straw. Olivia decides that it is time for a change. She comes to the conclusion that she needs to go back to school.  In order to do that, she moves back home to Houston, where her mother will help out with the kids while she gets he degree.

Moving back to Houston brings a couple of changes for both Olivia and the kids. First, their father shows back up. He is said to have been in Alaska working, but it’s heavily implied that is some sort of cover story. It’s never clarified either way, but I remember there were a few times it came of like, “Oh yeah, Alaska…wink, wink.” It’s not terrible important, I simply found it to be a little odd. It’s also implied that Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) was sort of a deadbeat father, but it also came off that Olivia doesn’t always make it easy for him to be around. I don’t know if that was out of resentment for him going off to Alaska or she simply didn’t like him. Anyway, Mason Sr. is back and keeps his promise to stay involved with the kids.

The other big change that comes in Houston is that Olivia meets a new man. He’s one of her professors actually. Things start off great, but after several years his alcoholism becomes a problem. The two eventually divorce.

Over the course of the next few years, Mason Sr. attempts to grow closer to his children. He seems to hit it off pretty well with Mason for the most part, but Samantha seems disinterested. Samantha is disinterested in just about everything, but her friends. She’s a very annoying character to be honest.

Olivia ends up moving the kids again. I think it was for a job this time, but I can’t remember. She is now a college professor. One year, she invites her students over for a holiday dinner. Things go well and she ends up dating one of her students (he’s a little older than a traditional student before you get creeped out). His name is Jim (Brad Hawkins)and is a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. To no one’s surprised, the two end up marrying. Even less surprising, they end up divorcing when his alcoholism becomes an issue. Seeing a pattern here? I realize the last two husbands were alcoholic ass holes, but between them and the boyfriend at the beginning of the movie, I’m going to put it out there: this woman has some issues.

Boyhood

During the course of this time, Mason Sr. has remarried and had a new child of his own with his new wife Annie (Jenni Tooley). Jenni comes from a very religious background. This is a little odd considering Mason blurts out random liberal talking points throughout the movie. The movie randomly interjects politics throughout the movie, particularly though Mason. It did not feel natural. If it’s part of the story, so be it, but it felt completely random, almost as if the writer/director felt the need to declare their opinions on certain issues. I’m sure it was meant to show how much Mason changed, it just wanted handled in the most organic way.

Some of the things that happen to the kids over these years are first loves, graduating highschool, and college (Sam is already there, Mason is on the verge of going). We get to know the characters as they become young adults and form their beliefs and personality; at least for the present time, because as Mason Sr. proves, people can change.  
Ok, so here’s the deal. This movie is totally overrated. I didn’t say it was bad or that I even disliked it, sometimes people get confused when you call something overrated, but it is overrated. It’s got a 98% rating at Rotten Tomatoes. It’s got a 100 out of 100 rating at Metacritic. That’s Metacritic for God’s sake. It’s almost impossible to get a score that high on that site. It’s notoriously stingy. It’s a decent movie, but it’s not that good. I believe the fact that it was filmed over the course of 12 years heavily influenced people’s opinions. It’s certainly never been done before and a big endeavor, but that doesn’t make it one of the greatest movies ever made.

What did I like about it? I thought Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke’s performances were solid. I didn’t like, agree with, or even understand everything their characters did, but they were solid. For example, there’s this one instance at the end of the movie where Mason Sr. turns to Olivia and says something like, “You did a good job raising them.” I’m sorry, what? We see her in three separate abusive relationships, one is a mistake three is a pattern. We see her do absolutely nothing when Mason comes home drunk and high in at least one instance. I realize kids will experiment. Mostly everyone does. That doesn’t mean you laugh it off and don’t punish them when you catch them.  They were good performances, I was just baffled by that scene.

I thought Ellar Coltrane gave a decent performance as a kid. But as a young adult, I felt his performance got a little weaker. It wasn’t as bad as Lorelei Linklater, more on that later, but it came off as less natural as he aged. He seemed a little uncomfortable at times. I also liked that we see the same character throughout 12 years of his life and how that life has changed (multiple times). I also found Mason to be less likeable as he became an adult. He was a slacker who didn’t like working for anything and that’s fine, but don’t get all resentful when people tell to get your shit together. As the character gets older, I got a little less interested in him.

Now, I have to say (again) just how bad I thought Lorelei Linklater’s performance was. Samantha was a very unlikeable character, which didn’t help. She was extremely self-absorbed and dismissive of just about everyone. Ever meet that kid in college who thinks he’s figured like out after a semester or two? Well that’s her, but she was acting that way most of her life. It wasn’t just that though. I genuinely did not like her performance. She spoke slowly. Almost as if she had to think about her lines because she couldn’t grasp them. It came off as if she was reading from cue cards and didn’t know what she was reading. There were times where I swear I saw the hamster running on the wheel as she thought about what she was saying. I cringed every time the character showed up. This girl got the part because her dad was both the writer and director.

Boyhood

I thought the unique way in which this movie was filmed worked both for and against it. We got to see characters over the course of 12 years of their lives, but unlike other epic movies, it’s the same actors. That’s never happened before. Either they recast for older versions of the characters (kids) or slap a wig and some make up on them to make older (the adults). This movie didn’t have that issue.

I do have to say though, that this approach also felt like a bunch of scenes slapped together. It was like they just picked a few dates throughout these actors’ lives and decided to film a few scenes. There wasn’t a lot of cohesion to the story. It was more like a series of random events.

This was a decent movie, but it’s insanely overrated. It’s a media darling because a few people, that some other people seem to listen to for some reason, declared it good an a bunch of other people in charge of awards shows jumped on the hype.

Rating: Thumbs half up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on January 17, 2014.