Boyhood: Too Good to be True?

A few years ago, when Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Freedom, came out, it got rave reviews and I thought, “If everyone loves it, it is either far too middle of the road or far too heavily marketed.” I was wrong. It’s an amazing novel and that’s a separate post, but I learned my lesson: sometimes the vast majority of critics can be right about the same thing and Boyhood is another example.
The film amazes. I kept saying, wow, they’ve done a great job with make up and special effects, only to pinch myself and say, No, those changes are real. Does it matter? –About as much as the difference between documentary and fiction matters, which is probably less than we often think but enough to be important. Every fiction is a doc to some degree. It captures parts of the world and the life of actors at a given moment. Here the doc degree is quite great. But the maturation or aging isn’t the primary point: it’s how the characters all evolve over time and do so in something closer to real time than we have ever seen in a fiction before. We can each assess each character’s evolution, and I just want to note that Patricia Arquette’s may be the most challenging to assess. She doesn’t get the big moments with Mason (Ellar Coltrane) like Ethan Hawke, his largely absent dad does. Hawke opines about everything to this young boy becoming man, but Arquette keeps the family unit intact and above water, at the considerable expense of frequent moves, prioritizing her effort to become a professor, and surviving some very abusive men. Why is she not a fount of wisdom, however well-intentioned and misguided or self-serving (as Hawke’s often is)? Why is she the suffering, self-sacrificing but also self-advancing mom who doesn’t bond very well with her kids, and even less with her daughter than her son? Linklatter’s Delpy character in his paris trilogy always struck me as a bit strained and I feel a similar lack of deep connection here.
That said, this is a spectacular film. “Problems” with women characters–giving them the density and complexity of their male counterparts–is hardly unique to Linklatter and he does, to his great credit, not make Arquette one-dimensional by any means. It’s just the complexity to Hawke’s errant dad is more overt and engaging, and seems to be where Linklatter’s instinctive energy is most fully realized.
I suspect this will be a film we’ll a lot more about at Oscar time.

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