Fairly Pointless and Undramatic
Release Date: July 11, 2014
Audience: Older teenagers and adults
Runtime: 164 minutes
Distributor: IFC Films
Director: Richard Linklater
Executive Producer: None
Writer: Richard Linklater
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The movie follows a boy named Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from age 6 until 18. Mason lives mostly in Texas with his mom (Patricia Arquette) and his older sister (Lorelai Linklater) after his mom and dad (Ethan Hawke) are already divorced. While he doesn’t see his father for large chunks of time early in his life, his father suddenly returns from Alaska to take a more active role in his children’s lives. Essentially, he’s shown to be a loving and concerned man who is maturing himself throughout the years shown in the movie. He eventually marries a Christian woman (though he scoffs to his kids that he hasn’t become “too religious”).
Mason and his sister and mother are shown moving repeatedly across Texas to new homes and through two stepfathers. Along the way, he deals with new schools, first loves, and good times and bad. At one point, the family has to flee from the mother’s abusive, alcoholic second husband, a college professor.
In high school, Mason becomes a sensitive photographer. He’s also shown using marijuana and drinking. The movie doesn’t endorse any drinking, but it does seem to endorse the marijuana use.
Also, at one point, Mason plans his first sexual encounter with his girlfriend on an overnight trip to visit a college they’re thinking about attending. The two are shown waking up together.
Otherwise, however, Mason is essentially nice, kind boy and a respectful, caring son. Not much else happens in the movie, as it foregoes a traditional main narrative storyline in favor of a series of anecdotal episodes from his life.
The result of all this is that the movie doesn’t hold much emotional impact for viewers, despite its daring, impressive feat of using the same actor for 12 years as he grows up. Anything could have gone wrong in that time, with cast members potentially getting sick or dying, or the boy proving to be a bad actor as he got older. However, the movie manages to succeed on the level of its central idea, even though its weak narrative structure makes the idea feel too much like a gimmick.
In fact, the movie’s stubborn refusal to show the mother, the boy and his sister (and to a slightly lesser extent, the father) holding any serious spiritual beliefs even as they face a void in their lives without it is rather depressing. This is a movie where the characters appear to be trying to live decent lives, but can’t ever figure out why they can’t achieve that or reach any deeper satisfaction.
So, the mother is shown going through three husbands in the course of the movie. This leaves her filled with regret by the end. She has no apparent spiritual life and is shown crying and wondering what the point of life is near the end. Mason’s father remarries with a Christian woman. While his new wife and her parents are shown as sincerely faithful and positive people, and there is a respectful scene where they attend church, the father assures Mason and Samantha that he hasn’t “gone religious.” He laughingly adds that, while he’s going to baptize his new baby, he and their mother never baptized them “because we didn’t care about your souls.” In that sequence, Mason is shown receiving a Bible from the Christian woman’s parents and looking at it awkwardly. At one point, his sister, Samantha, says “Dad, you’re not becoming one of those God people are you?” Mostly, however, the movie shows that these main characters give no thought to God or spiritual matters, yet shows that some of them become miserable and wonder what the point of life is.
BOYHOOD also has a couple of heavy-handed yet pointless scenes in which former President Bush is mocked, the Iraq war is derided, and Barack Obama is praised heavily. In fact, the father takes the children to campaign for Obama and encourages them to steal a pro-John McCain sign from a yard. Meanwhile, in another scene, an anti-Obama man is shown prominently to have a Confederate flag outside his house.
BOYHOOD contains a lot of strong foul language throughout its running time. There are also some sexual references, but, except for a few crude words, nothing extremely explicit. Young boys, however, are shown gazing through some lingerie ads in a magazine in one scene. Another scene implies they’re looking at Internet pornography. Only the audience realizes what’s happened. Nothing further is mentioned about such activity. Other than his one encounter, Mason isn’t promiscuous.
Ultimately, BOYHOOD is a fairly pointless, depressing, episodic exercise unlikely to entertain or engage average moviegoers. The boy’s transformation from age 6 to an older teenager is admittedly striking, but that’s not enough to hang a story or movie upon. In fact, except for a few cases, a lot of the dialogue is fairly innocuous, or doesn’t lead to much of anything. Conflict and jeopardy are also, for the most part, absent. Two of the movie’s best moments come when the boy’s photography teacher gives him a pep talk and when an immigrant tells the boy’s mother that a pep talk she gave him several years ago inspired him to make something more of himself. These moments are more inspiring than the third act, which is anti-climactic. What kind of narrative structure is that?
BOYHOOD is a pointless, episodic, ultimately depressing exercise with little conflict or jeopardy. Except for a sequence where the father marries a devout Christian evangelical woman, the characters eschew any religious or spiritual belief. No wonder a couple of them wonder what the meaning or purpose of life is, especially the mother. BOYHOOD contains a lot of strong foul language and brief lewd innuendo. Finally, it endorses marijuana use in two or three scenes.