Boyhood ★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Every moment that passes finds me disliking Boyhood more and more and more. And while I don't quite know who's responsible, it's become increasingly apparent to me that my problem with the film comes from the last place I expected: from Mason.

Despite an obviously committed performance from Ellar Coltrane, Mason is ultimately an aimless, faceless cipher, an empty vessel to be filled with our own memories, triumphs and regrets. The kind of smug indifference he exhibits is dressed up like either earned disillusionment or the standard teenage blather, but neither felt honest for a moment to me. Like I said, I'm not positive this is Coltrane's fault, but I will say that if it's true that the Before trilogy was scripted to within an inch of its life, I can now safely assume that the reason those films felt authentic was not because Linklater had an ear for naturalistic dialogue but because Hawke and Delpy are better actors than I ever gave them credit for.

And while the kid undergoes no real change or development over the course of the film, Linklater piles on reminder after reminder that we, as actual living human beings, did change: we got older and had that conversation with our dad about condoms, we got older and our parents divorced, we got older and just had to get the hell out. The first time Linklater reveals that Mason has grown older is a bit fun, but each subsequent reveal felt sillier and sillier to me. And when he's not doing this with the camera, he's doing it with the soundtrack or a cute little line about the latest blockbusters. It's so attention-seeking it makes a 250 pound Hitchcock reading a newspaper outside a corner shop seem downright nuanced.

All the boxes of white Texan suburban life are checked off here and somehow none of them feel right: the alcoholic stepdad is a comic book villain, the war vet doesn't make any sense for Arquette's character, the homophobic seniors Mason sits around with are painfully bad actors delivering embarrassing writing. Other minor characters come and go, largely forgotten.

I feel obligated to say it's not all bad even though I feel that much is obvious to anyone to watches the film: Hawke's admittedly telegraphed change in character is handled deftly despite an equally telegraphed wardrobe change, Lorelei Linklater steals most of the scenes she's in, it's always good to hear Arcade Fire, Arquette touches greatness a couple times, the scene at the Astros game looks gobsmackingly gorgeous.

Maybe what this all boils down to is that I think the film is undeserving of its reputation and especially underwhelming because the central stunt is too ambitious to be wasted on such dull material, on a film without conflict, narrative drive or stakes. I can hear you already, imaginary reader, complaining that that's exactly the point: we give our lives these imaginary contexts, we make up these narratives. Yes, I would imaginarily (!) reply, and that's precisely the detail that makes us human and Mason so distinctly not.

Put a camera on a kid every once in a while for twelve years and you're gonna get some pretty incredible home movies. To a kid, there are stakes in a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. Unless all teenagers back in the States have changed dramatically since I left, everything matters to a young person even when it doesn't. So why does this feel so much like a poor man's Tree of Life? How did Malick of all people -- with his dinosaurs and church organs and pesticide and incessant voice-over -- get growing up in Texas so right and Linklater get it so wrong?

Corey liked this review