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'Boyhood' never really grows into its full potential

Ellar Coltrane and Patricia Arquette in "Boyhood".
Ellar Coltrane and Patricia Arquette in "Boyhood".
© IFC Films

Boyhood

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"Boyhood" is, without question, a staggering achievement in film-making. Well, at least it is an achievement in how it was made. "Boyhood" is a movie that was filmed over twelve years with the same main actor as the titular boy and the same actors playing the mother, father, and sister as well. It is incredible that the same cast was able to be used throughout this twelve year period and that anyone would attempt to tell a story, in one movie, that is told, in-depth, over a twelve year period. All this is very impressive, but what about the end result? How does the movie fare as a movie? How is "Boyhood" to actually just, you know, watch?

For me, "Boyhood" is a film that kept my attention throughout, but that I questioned in the end. Basically, the movie is the story of one boy's experiences from age five until age eighteen. We see the boy, Mason, as he goes from first grade all the way to entering college. We see lots of things in this time period. Some of it is stuff that I can relate to and some of it is stuff that I never really experienced growing up. All of it seems to be pretty accurate to the experiences one may have at the ages seen in this movie. This makes "Boyhood" an easy movie to watch.

Actually, the surprising thing about "Boyhood" is how much it held my attention throughout its 165 minute length. That's a fairly long length for a movie, but it never felt too long while I was watching it. I was compelled enough by what I was seeing on screen to not really question its length. I mean, this movie was filmed over twelve years so there should be, at the very least, an 165 minute movie in there somewhere! However, as the movie went on, something kept gnawing at my brain.

As "Boyhood" went on, I kept wondering: why? I wondered why I was watching what I was watching. Everything seemed fairly accurate to the experiences one may have as a child, but I've already had much of these experiences. We all have had these experiences. What I began to realize as the movie continued is that the movie wasn't giving me anything beyond a re-enactment of what childhood is like. It was like watching a shot-for-shot remake of, well, boyhood. There seemed to be no substance to it beyond simply filming a boy as he physically grows into a man. There is more to being a man than physical looks though. There is more going on in the brain than there is in what we can actually physically see. I started to wonder if "Boyhood" would ever address this. As the movie seemed to be coming to some sort of end, I wasn't sure.

Finally, I got my answer. In a scene, which I mistakenly thought might be the final scene of the movie, Mason asks his father what it all means. The father asks if he means everything and the boy says yes. The father thinks for a moment and then responds by telling the son he doesn't know. That is when I realized for certain that the movie didn't actually have anything it wanted to say. There was not going to be some grand statement, or even a little one, about what boyhood meant for the main character in this story or really for boyhood in general.

What "Boyhood" is, and this is even stated at one point in the movie, is a series of moments. Really, the movie didn't have to be 165 minutes long. All the scenes in the movie are actually pretty random and some of them are actually pretty repetitive too. How many bad parenting scenes do we need to see to really show us a glimpse of what that can be like? Basically, "Boyhood" could have been any length it wanted to be. The place it ends at makes sense from a statistical he-started-in-first-grade-he-ends-in-college mentality, but in terms of telling any kind of story, or supporting any kind of theme, the story of this particular boy could have ended much sooner.

There is no grand statement on boyhood in "Boyhood". In the end, nothing much is really learned. It is true that at eighteen, many of life's questions remain unanswered. It is true that at eighteen much of what has been experienced in life so far is still confusing. Perhaps an eighteen year old wouldn't really have anything too fascinating to say about boyhood, but then again this movie was not written and directed by an eighteen year old person. The movie is not always going to be watched by eighteen year old people either.

Eighteen, for me, was ten years ago. I certainly have more insight on what went on from when I was five until I was eighteen now as opposed to when I was actually those ages. I certainly think about that period in my life often and try to make sense of a lot of it now. I learned a lot in those years without even realizing it at the time. I guess my point is that there is so much to be learned, so much that is important about those years in anyone's life. It is perhaps the most important time in a person's life. Much can be learned and much can be changed after those years, but really what is learned then becomes very instinctive and hard to get rid of. One of the hardest things in life to do is to keep progressing and adapting. Sometimes, after a certain point in life, people stop trying to learn, but learning doesn't just come in the form of a building called "school". The whole world is a school and everything in life is a learning experience.

What frustrates me about "Boyhood" is that I didn't really learn anything from it. Now, it may just be because of my own mind and my own experience with the movie. Perhaps other people have gained much wisdom from this movie, but the fact remains that I didn't. In fact, I believe the movie took an active stance to not give me any wisdom or any kind of insight into anything seen on screen during the movie. When the son in the movie asks the father what it all means and the father responds with "I don't know." there is something more going on. The son is not asking just about his own life, but about the movie he is in. He wants the dad to give the audience a statement that tells us the meaning of everything we have just sat through. He wants the father to answer my gnawing question of "Why?", but the father has no answer.

Really, what this tells me is that the writer and director of this movie has no answer as to the meaning of what he has put on screen or, more likely, he at least he has no answer that he wants to give us. The only wisdom I can remember coming from this movie is the cheesy line of "life doesn't give you bumpers" in reference to bowling. No, writer/director Richard Linklater did not want to give us any kind of message here. Richard Linklater merely wanted to show us what boyhood is. He just wanted to document the general experience of what boyhood is like. The problem for me is that I already lived it. It is impressive the lengths of which he went to capture this period of someone's life, but ultimately, I do not find "Boyhood" to be much of a great movie to actually watch.

"Boyhood" is well-filmed and pretty accurately captures moments that often occur throughout the years of a boy's life. However, that's not what makes a movie truly compelling. That kind of stuff can make a movie easy to watch on a first viewing, but that kind of technical prowess is not the kind of stuff that makes me come back to watch a movie again. "Boyhood" lacks the things that make a movie really stick with me. "Boyhood" never taught me anything that I could bring with me long after the movie was over. It doesn't even attempt to answer any questions and it doesn't really even attempt to ask them either.

Plenty of well-made movies just aren't all that interesting. There are so many movies out there that I would consider bad, but had so much work put into them and were technically well-made in the way that they were filmed. Now, I don't think "Boyhood" is a bad movie, but I don't think it's all that good either. "Boyhood", in the end, is just a random series of moments and, truthfully, I think it could have been so much more than that.