An Honest Review of Boyhood

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I would first like to re-introduce everyone to a good friend, a fellow cinephile, and now contributor to the Braves General Store, David Douglas. We went and saw Boyhood, a movie that is twelve years in the making, and we are going to do a joint review on what we thought about this movie that has critics stunned. Below are the emails that we shared our thoughts on the movie.

Bennett: Alright, David. Let’s get into this. Last night we went and saw Boyhood, a movie that director Richard Linklater has been working on for the past 12 years. It tracks the development of a boy from the age of 6 to the age of 18, and pretty much tells a story for each year of his life. Its stars Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, and Ethan Hawke. Would you say that is a fair description of Boyhood?

David: Thanks for having me, Bennett. While I initially thought there would be a bit more in the movie than the given summary, I’d honestly say that the movie did not vary too much from your description. The truly remarkable part of the movie was the fact that we were able to watch the growth of not only the characters throughout the film, but we were able to watch the growth of the actors, as well. I remember the two of us talking about how we may be able to tell which movies Ethan Hawke was filming during the various scenes in the movie based strictly on his hairstyles. Each time period brought us a brief moment of nostalgia due to the amount of pop-culture items present in each period, ranging from the music to the prehistoric XBOX (note my sarcasm), and that was fun to see, but overall, there were a decent bit of let-downs throughout the film.

As we clambered into my car before heading to our local independent theatre, Bennett, you turned to me and asked, “David, what if this movie is actually really awful?” We both laughed and played it off like it was some joke. I mean, this IS the movie that boasts a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, 100/100 on Metacritic, and a 9.0/10 on IMDb. While I never look solely at critics reviews, I usually do throw my lot with them, as their tastes usually align with my own. However, by the end of the movie, the two of us talked about the overall disappointment we both felt. Let’s dig in a little to what fueled that disappointment. Bennett, what WAS it that really rubbed you the wrong way?
B: Ok, so the movie definitely had a time capsule feel to it. And it felt like every transition had to be assisted by a popular song and laundry list if pop culture references, just in case you didn’t notice every character had aged a year. I feel like this movie’s three hour run time could have been cut to two hours if not for all of those references. And this introduces why this movie made me so angry. I have watched movies this long before. But never, have I watched a movie this long with so little development. This movie covers 12 freaking years, David. That’s ambitious. But then to follow a family that lives in five different places, has three different father figures, and suffers from a massive amount of character overload was simply too much. And despite all of that struggle that they underwent, I feel like all of the development for all of the characters happened off screen, and we were just told about it later on. I know this is jumping ahead, but there is a scene in the restaurant where Mason, the main character, is employed. He is clearly slacking off on his job, flirting with a co-worker, and eating a customers unwanted food. The manager who is dealing with an understaffed crew gets reasonably upset, but then offers the dude a promotion out of nowhere, because he is supposed to be this stellar employee. There are so many circumstances, like that, in which the actions we see on the screen directly contradict what the dialogue is trying to portray. The movie was just constantly spewing information to give what I felt were very one-dimensional characters a semblance of depth. I know you don’t have nearly as harsh opinions on this movie as I do, so maybe you can give a more balanced opinion.
D: I understand what you’re saying, Bennett. I really do. By the end of the movie, I felt somewhat unsatisfied. There I was, about to enter the movie theatre with a group of friends that I knew to enjoy so-called finer films, but by the end of it, I could not comfortably look around at the group and say, “Yes, that was a stellar movie. It absolutely deserved an ‘A’ on A.V. Club.” It seemed as if Coltrane (which sounds awfully like Cole Train from Gears of War; I’m on to you, Richard Linklater) was made out to be a character in which he deserved everything given to him on a silver platter, simply due to his circumstances. I am not undermining the point that living in an abusive household is deprecating to one’s growth. Actually, I’m making the opposite point. Yes, Coltrane dealt with a slew of emotional and borderline physical abusive relationships growing up, but I think this is the point in which the character was supposed to make a stand against all of that oppression. I actually felt ill in the theatre during one scene with his stepfather, but I was expecting Coltrane’s character to overcome those blows to his childhood. And honestly, I felt like there were so many clichés that it made me gag. It’s going to transition from a break-up to finding the perfect girl, as to make the audience feel like a perfect cookie-cutter story? What is this, (500) Days of Summer? (Forgive me. I love (500) Days of Summer, but come on, Linklater!)

On the other hand, there were aspects of Boyhood that I truly enjoyed. For starters, I kind of want to move to Austin simply due to the portrayal of the city in the latter parts of the film. Secondly, by the end of the marathon-of-a-movie, I felt strong emotional ties to Ellar Coltrane. These were not for his exceptional performance, as there was no real exceptional scene that I felt he played, but I felt drawn in to his story simply because I was watching his life unfold before my eyes. Ethan Hawke performed admirably. He knocked it out of the ballpark. Call it a grand slam. Linklater went from making me hate Hawke’s character to loving his transformed self, and that’s usually only perfected in television shows, namely Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman. I even loved the totally-not-creepy conversation Coltrane’s photography teacher had with him in the darkroom. It was a truly developmental scene here. (Really, Linklater? Could you maybe have been a tad more subtle?) But I truly did enjoy the dialogue between the two. His teacher gave him probably the best advice he had ever heard, which we will spare you, as to not spoil much else. Finally, unlike you, Bennett, I actually really enjoyed that there were a lot of key developmental milestones left out of the film (i.e. first kiss, parents’ divorce). That brought a kind of different spin to his life that I was not expecting to see. We also get to view his life as somewhat random moments in his life all strewn together, almost haphazardly, but in hindsight, I think that this was done for a reason. When looking back at my life, I don’t remember every single thing that made me into the man (HA. Man.) that I’ve become today. I simply remember certain clips, if you will, from my life, whether that’s a fond memory of building a birdhouse with my father, or that’s getting disciplined for shooting my mother’s car with a BB gun. But I do not look back on my life and see a five-act development to my character, and I think that’s maybe what Richard Linklater was trying to do here. So, from an artist’s point of view, I think he did a phenomenal job. Does that mean it was my favorite movie of 2014? Most certainly not. I think Star-Lord (note: Chris Pratt) blew Boyhood out of the water, alone.
B: Viewing it as a narrative in hindsight is an interesting concept, and I had not thought of that, which does help me appreciate the movie a bit more. There was just so much that left me laughing. So, I really just wanted to highlight some of those moments. There are some very minor spoilers here, so be careful.

1) The first song that Ethan Hawke first sang to his kids was LITERALLY bananas. It was like the first time he saw his kids in years, and he sang a song about that handled the fact he ditched them way too casually. It was just bizarre.
2) I feel like the movie tried to give hints to the fact that each of the step-dads were going to be jerks by having them hold Mason to some sort of responsibility. Step-Dad A got frustrated when Mason didn’t complete his chore, and I knew that the movie was trying to foreshadow him being a bad dad, but I don’t understand why that was supposed to make me feel bad. The same can be said for Step-Dad B getting mad at Mason for not obeying curfew. Basically, all adults were “the man,” and putting Mason down and trying to keep him from having a free spirit, and it drove me insane.
3) The sister may be my least favorite character from any movie of all time. She began as a very believable brat who didn’t appreciate her brother, and did not care about her mother’s struggles, and I was looking forward to watching her grow out of that. Did that happen? Noooo. She was still getting pissed off, because HER SINGLE MOM WANTED TO MOVE OUT OF A MASSIVE HOUSE. I was absolutely baffled and infuriated by her character.
4) The last line. I will leave it at that.
5) I have no idea, but age literally had no meaning when it came to sexual desire in this movie. I thought that Step-Dad A looked too old for the mother, and come to find out, he is 18 years older than her. Then, Step-Dad B seemed to be a good 10 years younger than mom. You can say love knows no age, but that is a wide margin. Also, mom’s best friend was HITTING ON MASON at the graduation party. And then I felt for a second that Mason was kinda interested in that 13 year old chick when he was about to go to college. I just could not figure out what was going on.
6) The way that sex advice was handled in this movie was just horrific. This kid did not get one iota of good advice his entire life in terms of girl, his sexuality. It was just unfortunate to watch.
7) This is my last one. The mom’s timeline makes absolutely no sense to me. She at one point says, “I went from being someone’s daughter to having a daughter.” We later find out she had Samantha when she was 23. So, that seems like a slight exaggeration. She then decides in year two of the movie she wants to go back to college, and then remains in college for at least three years. She then becomes a college psychology professor. And then, when she lives by herself, she talks about having terrible financial issues. It just seems like there is a total lack of direction with her character, and I loved the mom, and it just made it so hard to follow her.
I could go on, but that is just some of my observations. Do you have anything else to add before we give our final grades?
D: I do not have much else. Overall, it was not my favorite of movies. I was led to believe that I would walk away from this movie enlightened and disillusioned with regards to this boy’s life, but I simply walked away disappointed. That being said, I really tried not to nitpick everything wrong because there is always going to be something wrong with a movie if you are looking for things wrong with said movie. So, my grade below may be somewhat justified, despite the shortcomings of the film. It has a wide range of issues covered, but it gives the audience a microscope to view this kid’s life. It was just interesting to see the way that Linklater’s vision was realized. He was very bold and adventurous with this movie, and critically, it paid off, but it was just not everything I was hoping it would be. Whether others will like the movie is up to them. Maybe each person just needs to seize the moment. Or does the moment seize them? (You should chuckle here, if you’ve seen the film).
Our Grades: 
David Douglas’ Boyhood grade: B-
  • If you really want to sit through a three hour-long movie, and you’re willing to sit through more clichés than an ABC Family show, then you may enjoy the film.
  • If you do not have the patience for drunken father-figures, or your bladder doesn’t quite last for 2 hours and 44 minutes, you may want to pass on this one.

Bennett Garland Boyhood grade: C+

  • There is very little about the story itself that I enjoyed. I felt like the characters I most enjoyed were treated as very peripheral, and they missed out on an opportunity to capitalize on their story.
  • However, the method itself saves this movie. It was impossible not to be moved by seeing this guy from the age of six all the way to 18. Watching him physically age was just bizarre, and it works much better as a piece of patient art than a cinematic experience I would want to have again.

I want to give a huge shoutout to David for helping me out with this post. Look for some of his future work for Braves General Store as TV shows start kicking in during the fall.

Bennett Garland is a student at Georgia Tech. Despite attending what is far and away the best school in the state of Georgia, he has far too much time on his hands and consumes video media at a ferocious pace. We don’t know how he finds time to watch all three dozen super hero movies that come out every summer while also watching every SyFy showing of Sharknado and Sharknado 2, but he does and writes about his adventures in film and music.

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