When the Oscar nominations were announced, most people were befuddled. They didn’t recognize more than perhaps one film on the list. I’m including me. That’s how jacked up 2014 was. A film critic reads over the nominations and says, “What in the seven hells is Whiplash?” While I still haven’t seen Whiplash….or met anyone who has….at all, I’ve seen the movie that got the most early Best Picture Oscar buzz: Boyhood.
The thing about Boyhood is that it’s kind of mesmerizing. It makes no allowances for the audience, and completely forces them to deduce how much time has passed between the series of vignettes that cover the life of a boy, Mason, from the ages of 5 to 18. The thing that’s so amazing about Boyhood is that Linklater used the same actors (child and adult) for filming this over 12 years. TWELVE YEARS! The movie starts with the picture that’s been on all the posters with a child staring at the clouds in the sky and from their we’re quickly sucked into the life of Mason, his sister Samantha (played by Richard Linklater’s daughter) and their divorced parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke, who wisely are the only recognizable faces in the film for moviegoers).
You pick up the family’s back story and what’s happening in the current scene and since the previous scene by paying attention to detail in the conversation, checking out what kind of tech is being employed (when Mason rants about the evils of Facebook, I could tell we were pretty close to the end) and – thank God for this crumb thrown to the audience – Mason’s hair. Mason’s hair is the Best Supporting Actor in this film because without it, I might have gotten lost a few times. To demonstrate, here’s Ellar Coltrane (who’s fantastic), from film’s beginning to end:
You see what I mean? Go, Mason’s hair! This isn’t an extraordinary family where amazing things happen to the people who inhabit it. In fact, you could argue that it’s a pretty messed up family with Mason’s mother seeming to have a magnet personality for alcoholic stepfathers and the family broken at the film’s very start. But that waxes and wanes over the years, because it does in life. I felt like I was watching someone’s life play out over the course of nearly three hours.
Sandra Adair. Sandra Adair is the person (THE ONLY PERSON) who edited this film. Twelve years of footage to try to boil down into a comprehensible narrative. It’s an amazing feat and so is the directing by Linklater who’s familiar with this kind of film making having shot the “Before” trilogy over 20 years. BUT NOT CONTINUOUSLY! As an achievement of the art of cinema, Boyhood is everything it’s hyped to be. Is it a great movie? That’s going to depend on how much you can get into these characters and be willing to spend a very, very, very long three hours with them. Linklater films are mostly people just talking to each other, and Boyhood is the same, but the difference between, say, Before Midnight, and Boyhood is that Before Midnight is half its length. On the other hand. Sandra Adair probably had a warehouse full of film and three hours from that is like chipping a statute out of Mount Rushmore.
In the end, I think Boyhood is more of a cinematic triumph of imagination than it is a riveting or moving narrative. I liked Mason. I think Mason handled his boyhood pretty well and I wish him well as a man (and hopefully we’ll see Ellar Coltrane and Samantha Linklater continue acting). I think it should win Best Film Editing and Best Director, but my choice for Best Picture remains American Sniper.