The excitement around the release of a film twelve years in production was palpable as Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater, revealed its first trailers. To find that Linklater had filmed the growth of a real boy (Ellar Coltrane) from carefree youth to awkward teens, it was difficult not to see the whole project as a gimmick that would no doubt draw audiences in but would ultimately lack emotional depth. However, the reception of the film was that it would almost certainly change things, a revolution in film production as we know it.
The film begins with what can only be described as an exceptionally basic first few shots. Coltrane at his youngest is seen lying on a grassy verge, gazing into a cloudy sky as Coldplay’s Yellow begins to play, which essentially sets the scene for what is to come. As a writer, there is a constant struggle between the initial ideas that bubble to the surface and yourself as you search for something more original, something with bite. It can be considered that perhaps, for this film at least, Linklater’s writing lacked that first mental piece of editing that filters out the obvious. Boyhood follows the story of Mason, a white, lower middle-class American boy as he grows up. The set of cliches that punctuate the movie is just astounding. The concealed lingerie magazines, the camping trips with the useless, often absent father, the radical musician-turned loveable rogue and the wise, truth-spouting teacher. The two step-fathers who between them make up the catalyst for ‘evil step dad’ as we touch upon (but never fully explore) domestic abuse, alcoholism, right-winged patriotism and harsh conservatism neatly illustrated by anger-inducing black nail varnish.
There was often a feeling throughout the film that the main concerns during production were the mechanics of how the ageing process was going to work, which often gave the impression that the storyline was written at the very last minute. The character of the mother, played by Patricia Arquette, had some intriguing light shed upon her, as hers is a story often spoken about but very rarely given much screen time. Throughout the film, we see her experience a series of losses in regards to her relationships, the final one being the loss of her son who leaves for university. Arquette’s was the character I, as a viewer, felt most invested in as we see her attempt to build a successful career and home. However, seeing her in her last scene, broken, crying and voicing her loneliness it became clear for what purpose this character was used. The mother did not get her own arch within the narrative but instead was used as an object at which abuse and anguish were thrown. It shows a warped understanding of domestic abuse when it is used purely as a plot point to give your main character some anguish, only to disregard (and ultimately punish) the woman who was subjected to it in the first place.
Boyhood merely exhibits the anecdotes that we feel we know but are neither based in reality nor even interesting. A set of clichés hidden beneath a gimmick.
In it’s last thirty minutes the movie began to drag as we focused on a now grown Mason, Coltrane having inconsequentially not grown up to be an actor. The reviews of the film have been staggeringly in the positive, almost all written claiming that this was the perfect rendition of growing up. I believe however that the film fails to offer any form of an accurate portrait of youth and instead reels off a series of common tropes, all of which we’ve seen before, but only from the screen. The wonderful thing about real life is that it is full of strange and unexpected things. Real life is dense and complex and very rarely plays out like a movie. Boyhood merely exhibits the anecdotes that we feel we know but are neither based in reality nor even interesting. A set of clichés hidden beneath a gimmick.