We’ve all seen movies where actors age. Sometimes they jump 10 years in the span of a minute. They might be a child in the introduction and then an adult for the remainder of the film. Other times we meet an older version of the same actor with pounds of makeup to aid with aging effects, or vise versa. While not reasonably believable outside of a film, we as viewers suspend our belief and choose to willingly accept that these two different humans are playing the same character and in essence, are the same character. We choose to believe. However, in director Richard Linklater’s film, Boyhood, there is no need to choose to believe. We, as viewers, are simply to observe. Why is this? Linklater brought to the cinema a new way to do film. He chose to apply the concept of time and reality by keeping and filming the same actors over the span of 12 years for one film. While this concept is uniquely successful, the story-line of Boyhood falls short and diminishes the overall effectiveness of the film.
The concept of this film is absolutely beautiful. The director cast actors with intent to document a bildungsroman, a coming-of-age-story, for a young child who would bloom into adulthood, while all those central relationships in his life would also age with him. This was tastefully done and was so realistic to a true child’s self-development and progression of self-identity. For instance, when the mother is moving her two children back to Texas, they get into the car and the kids are fighting, putting up a pillow barrier, as well as giggling and tickling each other. As the film progresses with similar scenes such as these, I was able to reflect on moments in my own life when I did the same exact things. I was even able to reflect on memories I haven’t thought about for years—such as playing the “dead man” game on the trampoline with my siblings, just as the kids did while living with Mason Jr.’s mom’s second husband, the professor, and his kids—forming a sort of real-life Brady Bunch. These moments of life were captured beautifully throughout the film and really do produce the success in the film.
However, while the film is highly successful, artful, and tasteful in its concept, it falls short in the lack of story plot—or rather the lack of focus. Perhaps the undertaking of 12 years embodies too much! The film struggles to be a film because it is too realistic and spans too long a time. There is too much time that detracts from the focus upon a pivotal turning point in the lead character’s life. Instead of large or monumental events, viewers see small incremental moments of the boy’s life. And when larger or more prominent events do happen, there is little explanation as to how the lead character, Mason, processes through these. Perhaps their argument might be that to not process through these psychological challenges is a more realistic approach. Many unhealthy individuals go on throughout their lives without healthily addressing these kinds of stresses all the time. However, for the purpose of a movie and traditional expectations of a plot, a crisis and a resolution, these expectations are let down. For instance, Mason undergoes three father figures throughout his life and even a form of abuse, but we do not see any of sort of processing through or steps towards healing as would be expected in a film. There are no easy answers. Understandably so, there is a lot of content to cover in the duration of the film and not enough time to fully view all the internal developments that Mason undergoes. While the bits of information that are left out add to the realism of the film, there is still a curiosity for a climax—for more to happen. While the film is not a traditional or conventional one, it is so ordinary that it almost ceases to be a film—it essentially is a glimpse of everyday life—a life too familiar, too real.
In many regards, this could have been a beautiful and strong self-identity story, but instead, it lacks the appropriate identity development by not focusing on key elements in the boy’s life. Instead, ultimately, the storyline appears bland and underdeveloped for character self-identity explorations. The movie is simply, as the title indicates, a chronicle of a boy growing up and becoming a man: boyhood.
Criticism by Ciera Heimbigner
Cinetrek 2: Boyhood at Gate Picturehouse