Sunday, December 30, 2018

Catching Up Watch: Boyhood (2014)



Watched:  12/30/2018
Format:  Netflix
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2010's

I missed Boyhood (2014) during its theatrical release, and it's basically taken me this long to slog through the gushing, near-manic insistence folks had that I HAD to see this movie.*  I'm okay with some of Linklater's output, but aside from Slacker, haven't ever really responded to it the way you're supposed to.  Especially as an Austinite of a certain generation. 


In case you missed the memo - the movie was filmed in spurts over more than a decade, a sort of inversion of Linklater's films like Slacker or even Dazed and Confused that follow multiple people across a single day, and, instead, follows a single family/ the younger child of that family, over the course of about 12-13 years.  Thus, we get the same cast aging on screen over the span of about two and a half hours. 

Not to be morbid, but the major coup of the movie is that no one died or got arrested or whatever.  I mean... I am sure Linklater could have written his way around such an event, but they start and finish with a lot of the same cast, and you aren't ever pulled out of the movie going "ohhhh... poor Patricia Arquette... this must have been when she was eaten by an alligator, so this is how they wrote her out...".  Which, look, I'm just being practical here.  But it *doesn't* happen, so... man, they were lucky.  And Ms. Arquette needs to start avoiding alligators.

But, yeah, the movie is remarkable for all the reasons you've heard.  It's hard not to get swept up in and care about these people as you see some major and minor events in their lives as they unfold.  Linklater plays around the edges of landmark events - we don't see a wedding, we see the happy couple returning from a honeymoon.  That's what impacts the kid - what comes next, not the day of a big ceremony.  It's an organic unfolding of a narrative, us skipping over months and years at a time. From starting in a new classroom (not unpacking at the house) to those horrible conversations after getting dumped.  It's familiar but specific, nostalgic but also forward looking, a building block of what comes next.

The movie was also filmed in Texas, some of it in Houston, some in Austin, some in San Marcos - all places I know a bit - and that particularly grounds the movie for me as also a white kid who grew up in 2 of 3 of those places. 

What I am not is a parent, and as much as the movie is framed as being about the childhood to young-man-hood of a boy, it's also through the loving lens of parenthood.  Even the parents in the movie, who the movie doesn't exactly judge but does frame as making mistakes that impact the kids, are - fortunately - seen through a sympathetic lens.  I appreciate Linklater's ability to just let the narrative unfold without judgment, even as we're cringing or wincing at Hawke's "cool dad" in early scenes, or Arquette's poor selection process when falling in love.  No one is damned for an early decision in the movie, no one "pays" for a mistake, exactly. 

The kids themselves are certainly not judged, and Linklater cares for his actors and their characters while also reminding us of the need to grow and experience things and how we work on ideas as young people when we're no longer along for the ride but being handed the keys.  If the movie catches anything, it's the leap from being expected to follow the program as a kid to the transition to being expected to be responsible for yourself as your parents let go - and maybe left some gaps in there that you're going to need to figure out over the next few years when you're out of the nest.  It's that specific mix of everyone having expectations of you and asking you to do better, but no obvious path for how that's supposed to work, exactly, except by failing on your own.

At this age, I'm closer to Arquette's final scene than anything the kid is going through - that's all rearview mirror stuff.  But I can certainly remember the shock of figuring out how I reacted to my parents mattered to them, when they could finally let that parental veil drop, or at least change.  And at the exact age when I was living almost exclusively in my own head. 

Not every scene needs to have happened to someone for it to be true, and there's a direction about halfway through the movie that feels the most scripted, that I'm glad Linklater backed off of repeating, even if it felt recognizable. 

I'm glad to have finally seen the movie, and I'm glad Linklater's ambitions paid off.  While the movie can certainly get called out in today's age for being another coming of age tale of another white boy - the movie does capture something specific and something far more honest than I'm used to.  In some ways, the familiarity could be construed as mundane.   As the film moves from the general in the blank slate of another little kid to what we are when we're 18 - our focal character gets more specific.  Maybe not always in the most charming or movie friendly of ways, but in ways where you knew that kid in the dorms. 

I'm not sure I loved the movie when it was over, but as happens when I start to write about a movie, sometimes in considering what the movie did, it makes me appreciate the film a great deal more.  And it will stick with me - particularly the character work and development.  And certainly seeing something so organic show up on screen. 



*hot tip: this just applies to addressing me, but...  the more you press, the less likely it is I will want to watch the movie you're suggesting.  If you you get that crazy thing going about how I "really, really need to see it", you just raised the expectations way too high for whatever movie it is you suggested, and now I'm judging both you and the movie, and I'd rather just not. 

2 comments:

Paul Toohey said...

I saw this movie in the theatre twice opening week. First with a friend. The second time I saw it with my Mom and let me tell you it felt like a completely different experience (My Mom shares quite a bit of the story of Arquette's character (minus the abusive husband, and my Mom didn't remarry until last year). Made me think a bit about how the movie could be called Motherhood. I don't know that it's a movie I'll revisit often, but I did buy the Criterion disc to be able to rewatch.

Ryan Steans said...

Yeah, I didn't get into it in my write-up, but that was probably my biggest surprise going into the movie - it really doesn't focus exclusively on the kid as much as I figured, giving a lot of room to the parents and his relationship there. But it works. I'll rewatch at some point.