BOYHOOD — (letterboxd review)

This review reportedly contains spoilers.

It's taken me a few days to get around to reviewing this one, and that is to say I am still pondering it. That said, this much can be confidently stated on my part:

This is one of the "truest" films ever made.

I have a friend on Facebook who tagged me in his review of Boyhood after watching his SAG screener — he was basically calling out the film for its lack of plot and payoff, and mentioned me when he said "Boyhood is the canonical example as to why Jason Thornton's profession is the integral constituent that defines what a "movie" actually is, and, without which, is just masturbatory Arriflexing."

Though I appreciate the name drop — as a writer and storyteller I have to respectfully disagree.

What Linklater set out to do, and in my mind accomplished with aplomb, was anything but a conventional bit of storytelling complete with discernible act structure, plot points, payoffs and tropes. He had no interest in telling a standard tale. What he was after, and captured, is something much more evocative and profound than a mere genre yarn. If one is to make a distinction between "movies" and "films," this is most definitely the latter — a dramatic story told in pictures, with no regard for the conventions of normative, popcorn narratives.

And I, personally, find that refreshing as fuck.

Perhaps it is because I am a white male, raised with a single sibling by a single mother until she settled on our stepfather (after a few other men came and went)... but this film unfolded, for me, as do my own fractured, piecemeal memories of childhood. It comes in elusive fragments, usually focusing on the less joyous moments of childhood because it is truthfully in the fires of interpersonal drama that our burgeoning personalities are forged. And so too it is with the film's "protagonist," if such a term applies.

Mason is what white suburbia might call a typical boy. He daydreams, he questions, he wonders at the world around him as he learns to navigate it. He is also a product of a broken marriage, as so many of us are. But he is not unloved, and it is in recognition of this fact that we must realize what a different film this might have been — what plays as a chronology of an average life unfolding could have easily been a cautionary tale had Mason not been loved, and shown love, by not only his mother (played marvelously by Patricia Arquette) but by his come-and-go father as well (Arquette's equal in Linklater staple Ethan Hawke). Both of his parents are, in their own ways, proponents of education and a life introspectively examined... and the children they brought into life and raise, in their own ways, are products of this environment. That is to say: They could have turned out hella worse, these kids.

From the children to the adults, the film's "characters" play like real people, with real pasts and futures and ideas about life. Both of Mason's parents are non-violent. They are thinkers and strivers in their own ways (mother in her pursuits of education, to find both personal fulfillment and to better provide for the children she cares for — father in his wayward pursuit of music and personal freedom and expression and truth)... and they impart upon Mason, as we learn in the later scenes of the film, a self-awareness that far too many people lack. Of course this manifests itself in the doom and gloom non sequiturs of a somewhat "emo" young man groping to find his place in the world, and to prescribe meaning to his life... I can recall similar scenes from my own "boyhood" in which a girl I was spouting such pontifications to called me "weird," as Mason's soon-to-be high school girlfriend Sheena does in the film. There is real truth, and hence beauty, in these types of effortless exchanges... and the film is brimming with such moments.

Again, I wonder what this film may have been like had Mason been raised by stoutly religious parents (love the scene in which his father's new In-Laws gift Mason a bible for his birthday, complete with the word of Jesus in red ink — a gift shortly followed by the giving of a rifle, because, you know: Texas). Or had he been raised by racists, or a single mother more interested in fulfilling her own needs to the point that it's at the expense of her children (as happens far too often in life), or a mother who constantly threw their wayward, lackadaisical, irresponsible father under the bus.

But no, this is the story of caring, loving people learning to care and cope and carry on in their own way and time (particularly in the case of Mason's father, who is afforded this luxury of time by way of his own irresponsibility to his children and ex-wife, his refusal to live under the constraints of domestication; but eventually even he comes around to father another child and become a responsible loving husband — the kind of man "Mom" needed all along but, by way of bad timing, was not to have).

And that is part of the thematic thrust of the film, I believe: That we must all get there in our own way, and in our own time. That life unfolds not at the convenience of plot points and dramatic structure, but more ethereally, in smaller and less dramatic increments.

I could go on and on, and talk about this film for days. Its technical achievements, the patience and artistry and passion of all involved so evident, the attention to detail.... literally each and every scene had a kernel of resonant truth in it, and each scene and dramatic movement of the film does indeed deserve praise — from the queasy unease of watching teenagers hang out in a near-completed house and throw circular saw blades like shurikens (I was so sure something bad would happen, but it didn't, and it's in these flirtations with disaster that the film also alludes to truth), to the slow walk and talk with a girl, to the misery of men who come and go and drink to cope with lives they wish they had led differently, to shed responsibilities they took on in a moment of idealization and now have come to recognize as incompatible with their own inner desires (see the parade of men Mom deals with before ultimately ending up alone, an empty nester rightfully saying, as her youngest leaves her alone in a small, barren apartment to go off to college, "I just thought there would be MORE.")... but again, that is the point and the magic of this film.

While some viewers and reviewers (such as my aforementioned friend in SAG) might be left saying the same of this film ("I just thought there would be MORE")... I am afraid they might be missing the entire point of the film. There is not more. There is merely what we get, and what we make of it. That is a universal axiom that applies not just to "boyhood," (and Boyhood) but to life itself.

This film is, ultimately, a marvelous example of how the medium can do so much more to reveal and illustrate the beauty of human existence than merely spin a yarn, impress us with spectacle, or wow us with its clever plotting. Linklater set out to do something different, to render unto us a piece of art that is not mere product — and for that he should be lauded, and this film should be watched.