Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Boyhood is the nearly universally acclaimed film by Richard Linklater that is probably about to win a bunch of Oscars. It is in a neck and neck race for best picture with Birdman.
And I can't figure out why anyone likes it.
Would losing the Oscar actually help its reputation? I feel either film will show up on a future list of either "undeserving" or "deserved to win." Pulp Fiction's reputation has not been hurt for losing the Best Picture Oscar to Forrest Gump. Gump is the film that has diminished greatly in time, while Pulp Fiction's reputation has only increased. So maybe hoping your favorite film will lose, is the best way of looking at it.
But back to Boyhood specifically. And let me state to being a Linklater fan. But is it possible this movie will become Crash or Gump or Gigi or some other film that people look back on in a few years and go, "Wait. We got that one wrong." I don't know. It's supporters are great in number right now. But this is why I feel a backlash might happen. And the sooner the better.
1: It's a gimmick without substance.
I know. Some of you just broke your monocle with outrage. But how many reviews have you read that have not fawned over the sheer way it was made? "It took 12 years to make!" Now just about any movie has a hook. Pulp Fiction was told out of order. Birdman gives the appearance of one continuous take. But how many reviews of those films make it seem like groundbreaking movie making, the likes we have never before seen?
They don't. But for Boyhood, the gimmick is everything. Which I feel slowly people will come to realize, is also the only thing. There is no big payoff. It's look is unremarkable. The main character you care less about as he gets older. If the film had been made in a more conventional way with different actors playing Mason, would anyone have even noticed this film?
2. It's an hour too long
It will probably win the Oscar for best editing. Yet, its way too long and the end especially just kind of meanders. I have watched it twice now, assuming I must be missing something. The first time was tough. The second time was excruciating.
3. It's characters are cliched and flat or stereotypical.
Even people who praise Boyhood often mention the exaggerated way her second husband is portrayed in the film. Then there is the way a Republican is portrayed, when the children knock on his door carrying Obama signs. Confederate flag. Threatens to shoot the kids. Its all very overdone and ridiculous. Do these people exist? Sure. Just about any specific kind of nut job does. But in the numbers Linklater would probably want you to believe? No. It's a ridiculous and offensive caricature. Yosemite Sam playing a Confederate General in a Bugs Bunny cartoon feels less over the top.
Mason's step-grandparents give the children a bible and a gun as their first presents from them. Because they are conservative and that's what conservatives hand out; like grandmothers and hard candy.
We see one Hispanic character in the entire film. This was pointed out by Jon Marcantoni, as a bit odd for a film set in Texas. But when we do see our token character, he is a gardener who speaks broken English. Arquette's Olivia says, "you're smart, you should go to school." And that is the extent of their interaction. The gardener then returns later in the film to be a manager of a restaurant, (who speaks perfect English) and it is all thanks to Olivia's inspiration. (Also, I don't think Linklater has a clue that gardener is also often a better career than manager.)
The people that had a hard time with The Blind Side, should have heart palpitations over this one. It usually takes a whole movie for the white character to rescue the poor minority. Here it took about 35 seconds.
And I won't mention that just about the only black character with any screen time, is a co-worker of Olivia's who uses one of her four lines in the film to let a still very young Mason, know she'd like to sleep with him. I'll own that maybe I'm reading too much into that. But the other examples made it stand out.
4. Child actors are not always strong adult actors.
Boyhood actually boxes itself in by having to hope Ellar Coltrane, a likeable child actor, will grow into a likeable young adult actor. Contrast young Mason conveying how he felt for getting his hair cut, with older Mason. Older Mason is an artsy fartsy semi burnout who cares like, about stuff, ya know? But also, not as much about stuff Cuz its all the moment, man Am I right?
And while that might be accurate for what some boys his age act like, it's also depressing and dull.
Oh and they make him a photographer because of course they did.
5. Drugs. Man.
Call me a stick in the mud. But too often filmmakers seem to rely on people getting high, to convey them feeling something deep. We make fun of awkward flashbacks or montages, but its time we started giving this lazy technique the same reaction.
Then again, anything done well, gets a pass. A better actor could look out at a beautiful moment in nature and convey what is necessary. Linklater has Coltrane's Mason, get stoned right before his profound/not that profound last scene, because you know, deep thoughts.
Not a whole lot happens in Boyhood. And that is not my problem with it. Not much happens in many Linklater movies. But whats on screen is still fun and interesting.
A better actor. And a vastly better Linklater movie.
Arguably just as profound.
So how will Boyhood be remembered? Will it become Crash? A movie highly regarded as one the critics got wrong? Or will it grow in reputation over time?
Honestly, the best thing that could happen for it is to lose that Best Picture Oscar. Let the supporters keep a chip on their shoulder and talk it up over the coming years.
For me, I am all for a Boyhood backlash, And lets not wait. Let it begin now. If it takes winning that Oscar for people to come to their senses, so be it.
And the Oscar goes to....