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Film Review – Boyhood (2014)

Another week means another Netflix review! This time we’ll look at a film that garnered a ton of praise from the Academy Awards but has since become a little divisive: Boyhood!  This film has been praised for its technical achievements, but do its emotional beats hold up upon repeat viewings?  The following review will be spoiler free.

Background

Boyhood is directed by Richard Linklater and stars Ethan Hawke alongside Patricia Arquette and Ellar Coltrane.

The movie was filmed over a twelve year period to show the young Mason (Coltrane) as he grows into a young adult.  The film takes snapshots of Mason’s life through his adolescence, such as family conflicts or other moments that are deemed important to Mason’s development as a person.  As he grows, we see not only him change, but we also see everyone around him change as well.

After the film was released in 2014, Boyhood received much praise from critics for these technical achievements to the point where it was nominated for six Oscars at the 2015 Academy Awards.  Given its 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, you would think that Boyhood was destined to be viewed as a cinematic classic.

However, the film has since been relatively forgotten for the praise it received upon initial release, failing to capture the imagination of audiences like it did with critics.  But this fate for Boyhood may be due to backlash towards the film after the it initially received overwhelmingly positive reviews, similar to the hate that swelled for La La Land this past year once everyone started claiming the film was the best thing since sliced bread.

boyhood

image via www.influx.co.uk

What I Didn’t Like

After watching the film, I fall solidly into the camp that doesn’t understand the hype around Boyhood.

I understand that filming over a number of years may be a tad more difficult than a typical production schedule.   But, I don’t quite understand the praise for Boyhood‘s twelve year shoot.  It was probably a nightmare to schedule talented actors like Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette due to their involvement in others movies, but does a film deserve to be lauded just because it took longer to shoot?  I don’t necessarily think so.

In the same vein, shooting over twelve years, while allowing us to see Mason grow up before our eyes, is actually a detriment to the technical aspects of the film.  The camera footage is far superior in the second half of the movie than the first half, which directly coincides with the lesser technology used in the earlier years of Boyhood’s production schedule.  These differences lead to visual inconsistency that can be quite jarring as we move forward in time in the film.

What I Liked

Before I rail too hard on Boyhood, I must get it across that Boyhood is certainly not without its merits.  The film showcases two stellar performances from Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette (who would go on to win the Oscar for best supporting actress).  They perfectly display the strained relationship of a divorce.  Their interactions feel incredibly lifelike, a characteristic that director Richard Linklater was obviously attempting to emulate.

The jumps through time also allow for some really fun pop culture references.  They’ll bring a smile to your face while also setting a realistic atmosphere for the characters.  The music, costume design, and set design of the film allow for fun, little moments as they perfectly set the stage for the scene.  Boyhood moves forward in time quite consistently, but the auditory and visual cues allow viewers to know exactly when in time the film currently takes place.  Richard Linklater does a lot of showing rather than telling in this respect, a quality that is very appreciated.

boyhood

image via The New York Times

What I Didn’t Like…Continued

However, what Linklater is really trying to do with Boyhood is show a “slice of life.”  Each event is meant to explain how Mason grows up.  The way Linklater films Boyhood is very original.  Ultimately, however, it’s void of any emotion necessary for the viewer to become captivated.

Take 2016’s Moonlight which has a similar film construction to Boyhood.  There is absolutely nothing “Hollywoodized” about Moonlight.  It feels incredibly authentic as you watch the main character, Chiron, grow up before your eyes.  Boyhood attempts to have a similar effect.  The main difference, however, is that Moonlight creates realistic dialogue and scene composition with a great emotional edge.  Linklater is so concerned with making Boyhood a movie about life and its uniformity that each moment with Mason feels largely uneventful and without heart.

boyhood

image via The New York Times

Conclusion

Kenneth Turan from the Los Angeles Times sums up Boyhood.  He exclaimed that Boyhood “a film that whose animating idea is more interesting than its actual satisfactions.”  Once you get past the fact that Boyhood took twelve years to create, is there much to remember this film for?  I certainly don’t think so.  Boyhood is more or less a hollow movie that lacks stirring dialogue and heartwarming character beats.

I’m not claiming Boyhood is bad movie.  However, its lofty praise needs further consideration.  It gets a C+.  Film is incredibly subjective.  Don’t be afraid to dislike a widely praised piece of work.

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Thanks for reading!  Have you seen Boyhood?  What’s a movie that you can’t stand that people seem to love?  Comment down below to make your thoughts heard!

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What movie topic should I discuss next? Whether it be old or new, the choice is up to you!

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Nick Kush

A current college student, Nick founded MovieBabble in October of 2016 in order to provide insightful film analysis that is meant to educate and entertain. Nick is also a member of the Internet Film Critics Society. You can follow Nick at the official MovieBabble Twitter account @MovieBabble_

8 Responses

  1. I’m more in the loved it camp, but your comments and analysis are excellent, apropos and beautifully written.
    Lida

  2. millyer says:

    I really like Linklater’s style – the seemingly mundane details in life that he captures make his work beautiful. Boyhood certainly wasn’t a favourite of mine, or even terribly memorable. I think Linklater a lot of the time films scenes that are so un-Hollywood that it’s hard for viewers to understand what/why they’re watching. If you’re into painfully real, Linklater’s usually your man. It wasn’t worth 12 years for sure.
    Linklater has made some lovely films, namely Before Sunset. It is for me one of the sweetest romance films ever.

    • Nick Kush says:

      I love that whole “before” series that he’s made. I actually do gravitate to a lot of his work, for some reason Boyhood just didn’t work for me.

  3. Nice review. I watched it when it was in theaters and I remember really liking it then, but now I’m curious to see if I’ll still feel the same way watching it now!

  4. I’ve watched Boyhood too and I thought similarly – it was good but it also felt like something was missing, like it wasn’t quite reaching a mark or my expectations.

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