Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Monday, 26 January 2015

About a boy ...

Or BOYHOOD - is that it? The dvd blurb says: "Filmed over 12 years using the same cast, BOYHOOD is a ground-breaking story of growing up and a unique film experiment.  Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette lead the cast as the parents of Mason (Eller Coltrane) who literally grows up on screen before our eyes. Exploring the rocky terrain of childhood like no other film has before and set to a chart-topping soundtrack, including Coldplay's "Yellow" and Arcade Fire's "Deep Blue", BOYHOOD is both a nostalgic time capsule of the recent past and an ode to growing up and parenting."

Well, yes, some people see it like that. A lot others too, as per the reviews over at IMDb, are less complimentary. A lot of it feels like watching some family's home movies, where kids play, ride their bikes, go bowling, but nothing really happens or develops. We are denied a narrative structure, so scenes seem random, as we see the years going by and Mason develops from a nice kid to a grungy early teen and then the nice young man of 18.  
But really I could have photographed my nephew - now 20 and at university and a similar nice young man - over the last 12 years when I saw him once or twice a year and it could look to be pretty much the same. It does though remind us of the little moments which make up our lives and which we forget in everyday living. It also paints a realistic picture of blue collar America and growing up there, as the father comes and goes, and the mother has two other unsatisfactory marriages (shown in a bloodless undramatic way) but is finally happy doing her own thing, as Mason leaves for college. That scene where she says his leaving is the worst day of her life is particularly true for me, as my own mother said the same thing when I left home at 18 for the bright lights of London .... Arquette delivers the most nuanced performance as her character changes over the years. 

There are other movies where nothing much happens (like Antonioni's L'AVVENTURA) but there is a structure where the director leads us - there seems to be no structure here just randomly put together scenes and then the film just stops.  I can see its a profound experience for some, but others may be itching to reach for the fast-forward button after half an hour or so, of this two and a half hour film. It is written and directed by Richard Linklater and its certainly an achievement to create and see the project through over that time period (the BBC did a similar project photographing a group of children every 7 years as we see them grow to adulthood), and it is up for lots of awards. But did the 5 year old child really understand what he was doing or told to portray? - as though for a 'structured reality' tv show. Fascinating seeing him grow up though .... dealing with family and two other fathers.. He does not really have to act as such, the camera just observes him doing ordinary things from childhood onwards - even his telling his second stepfather that he is not his dad is not played for any dramatic playoff. It was probably a good idea for Linklater to place his daughter as part of the family, as Mason's sister, which should have helped focus the family unit over the years of filming. 

Other commentators are much harsher, as in (from IMDb): 

Be warned: This is NOT a drama. The movie is the opposite of a carefully constructed work of art. It's nothing but a re-enactment of memories, a collection of unmeaning scenes we may or may not know from our own lives (bowling, playing video games, reading Harry Potter etc.). I think it is only fair to ask: What is the point? . The basic idea of filming a boy growing into a young man during twelve years is interesting, yes, but sadly the film offers nothing more than that. This is not enough! Sadly, many critics seem to have liked the basic idea so much that to them it didn't even matter if the director would be able to make it interesting or not.
The film which is much too long follows an unstable family and focuses on the life of Mason, a character that has absolutely no interesting characteristics whatsoever. Mason walks through this film as if he was in a coma or half asleep; he has no ambitions. At some point he gets his first kiss, gets interested in photography, goes to college at which point the film ends. I kid you not, this is the whole movie. The mother becomes a teacher at a local college and always seems to attract the wrong guys. The father is an unemployed loser who only talks about pop music and ends up being a square. Mason's sister (the director's daughter) grows up too and that's pretty much all you can say about her.

It did though come first in the "Sight & Sound" recent Top 20 Films of 2014.

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