I’ve heard many things about this movie. It’s already been reviewed by just about every blog I follow, though I’ve avoided reading those reviews. I did, however, pick up on the fact that everyone has adored it. Well, I’m not sure if “adore” is the right word to describe my reaction, but I did leave the Moxie Theater feeling uncannily validated.
Boyhood is, quite simply, about a young boy growing up in the United States. Nothing special, except for the rather extraordinary fact that director Richard Linklater managed to get the same group of people (Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater, and Ethan Hawke) to agree to be filmed a few weeks a year for 12 consecutive years. I’m sure you’ve heard about that feat of coordination as well. It would be wrong to describe this as a movie with a plot. It’s just a peek inside of a few people’s lives as they ebb and flow. Things happen, but organically. If it weren’t for the high quality of the film, and its ability to perfectly capture all of the “key” moments, you could reasonably believe that it was real.
Which is part of the reason why I have a hard time evaluating this film. Is it good? Oh yeah, definitely. Is it great? I’m not sure. It resembles my own life so closely that it’s impossible for me to separate my experiences from those captured on Linklater’s camera. And believe me, I am fully aware that that was the point. It’s somewhat eerie seeing most of your life up on a big screen. I’m not just talking nostalgia — it’s something both more profound and belittling than that. Those striped denim jeans that Samantha was wearing? I had a pair of those, and so, apparently, did all girls in elementary school. Common features of my life that I didn’t even realize were common were suddenly revealed as archetypes. I don’t think it helps that I spent three years in Wichita Falls, Texas and two years in San Antonio. Even the landscape, the brick facades of the houses in which Mason lived, were nearly identical to those I occupied. The only thing missing was a fluffy, friendly dog.
Closely evaluating the film would mean subjecting myself to a possibly uncomfortable level of self-scrutiny. To say that it resonated with me would be an understatement, and I suspect that the same is true for the vast majority of people who’ve seen it. I felt like someone had hidden a tape recorder in my home, my car, my school and gotten ahold of all of the conversations I’ve ever had, then played them back to me with someone else speaking the words. Boyhood isn’t really an accurate title; something even more generic, like “Life,” would be better. (But who would go see a movie called Life? I probably wouldn’t. It’s too epic and self-congratulatory).
I think this movie works best if you’re white or middle-class. Certainly, it’s meant for Americans. It feels so familiar, as though someone held up a mirror for you to watch your experiences play back in astonishing clarity. Those assumptions about familiarity, though, run deep throughout the film. What does it mean to say that Nintendos are familiar, that of course you dress up for the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, grabbing your hardbound, pre-paid copy from the attendant, only to flounce home in your cape and plastic glasses and read it under the covers in your own room, in a brick-fronted house, before being dropped off at a featureless stone building for school the next day? It felt familiar to me, but did it feel familiar to everyone? I’m almost certain that it didn’t, and the movie is an uncomfortable reminder not only of the typicalness of my life, but everything that I haven’t been given a reason to question.
In the end, it’s a marvelous achievement. As someone for whom this movie is written, it rang authentic throughout (even the pretty and irritating high school girlfriend). The acting, particularly from Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, is impeccable, as is the steady, never rushed, never boring, sense of time passing. Something remarkable has been made out of a series of lives that are inherently unremarkable. It’s a discomforting type of self-affirmation. How appropriate that Arquette’s character was a professor of Psychology.
So, in the end, I would certainly recommend watching this, particularly if you’re American, and especially if you’re a white American, and irrefutably if you’re a white, middle-class American. Average, average, average until the end of the day, but don’t we average folks just love having our lives reflected back to us? If you leave the theater feeling nostalgic, I think you probably missed the point. But if you leave it with a heavy sense of deja vu, and a startled reaction to how easy it was to pinpoint all of the important moments in your life — then I think you’re on the right track.
Overall rating: I have no idea. (A+ for accuracy. C- for exclusivity).