My experience watching and reviewing Boyhood is similar to the experience of eating a hot pepper. It doesn’t taste spicy at first, but after a few seconds the flavor kicks in and destroys your tongue.
Let me clarify. While I was watching this movie, I barely reacted to it. A day or so after I had finished watching it, I thought about it a little, but still felt I had no reaction to it. But, after a day or so more, I quite strongly and quite suddenly realized that I didn’t like this movie. At all.
I know that isn’t a very popular opinion, but I’m not here to tell everyone why their opinion is wrong or purposefully go against the common opinion just for the sake of going against the common opinion. Please don’t take it lightly when I say that there are very few things in this world which bother me more. And I have reviewed several things on this blog with the “popular” opinion, such as praising the hell out of Frozen and bashing X-Men 3: The Last Stand. I just call it like I see it.
The overwhelming praise this movie has received, however, has caused me to wonder whether or not people are looking at some aspects of the film very carefully. People seem to be lost in their praise of the film’s main selling point – the fact that it was filmed over a period of 12 years – and miss what I saw as a very, very mediocre take on what it was like to grow up in Houston, Texas in the 2000’s-2010’s.
Wait just one second, you might say. Who are you to go preaching about what it was like to grow up in Houston, Texas in the 2000’s-2010’s? How on earth would you know what it was like to grow up in Houston, Texas in the 2000’s-2010’s?
Sigh. Because I did grow up in Houston, Texas in the 2000’s-2010’s.
The truth had to come out eventually. I’m not very old. At all. I suppose that might have been obvious from my audio recordings, but yeah, folks, all this time you’ve been dealing with a kid. (Not really. I promise I’m an actual adult.) And this wasn’t something I wanted or even felt I needed to bring up, but it’s absolutely necessary for me to review Boyhood.
Boyhood is set in what is literally my childhood. I remember going to places Mason and his family goes to in the movie. I remember hearing those same songs, meeting those kids. My mother even read Harry Potter aloud to me and my sister when we were little.
And yes, when I saw this movie, I was just about to do something very similar to what Mason does at the end of the film.
This movie should have had me bawling.
I’m serious. I’m not the most emotional person in the world, but a movie that’s set in the place and time I grew up and ends with the exact same major life change that I’m about to go through…yeah. It should have had me bawling. Instead, it just left me cold.
I realized I didn’t like this film at the same time I realized that the fact I’d had virtually no reaction to it was rather bizarre, given the subject matter. And I thought a lot about why.
Here are my reasons I didn’t like Boyhood, laid out for the world in a clear, concise, Buzzfeedesque manner. I don’t usually do reviews like this, but I feel I need to with this one in order to organize my thoughts.
So, here goes.
Why I Didn’t Like Boyhood
1. The dialogue in this movie does sound realistic, but it reveals nothing about the people that are actually speaking.
This movie is one of those movies that, like Her, tries to incorporate very realistic dialogue between the characters that sound very close to real-life conversations. But unlike Her, where that technique was used to the advantage of the story, revealing parts of Theodore’s character little by little throughout the film, in Boyhood, they amount to little more than small talk. The conversations that aren’t comprised of small talk, such as when Mason is having deep, philosophical conversations with his girlfriend, do nothing for Mason’s character because they are vague and make it seem more like Mason has no idea what he’s talking about rather than catching a glimpse of the thoughts trapped deep in his psyche.
Every time an adult tells Mason he needs to straighten up, or gives him advice about life, it all feels insignificant and almost typical because it’s presented in such a, for lack of a better term, small-talkish fashion.
I don’t mind dialogue written in this realistic, conversational manner – it worked in Her – but when it does nothing and reveals nothing about the characters, I’m sorry, I can’t accept it as brilliant.
2. Mason’s family is not a very good representation of most families.
Yes, I’m aware that there are families that live like this. Yes, I’m aware that many people’s parents are separated. Yes, I’m aware that many people have jerk older sisters and mothers with strings of boyfriends. But if you’re trying, in one film, to capture what it’s like to grow up – which I really think Boyhood was trying to do – then I don’t think this is the route you want to go.
The number of nice interactions between Mason and his mother and sister are few and far between. The most realistic interactions in the film were the ones between Mason and his father, because they actually had some nice moments, although many times it only seemed like the father, and not Mason, was having a good time. I can’t remember one scene where Mason and his sister actually looked happy to be around each other – I can’t even remember a scene where any of them were happy to be around each other. Is that really how families are most of the time? Well, maybe some of them, but for the majority I’d say no.
If this film was trying to portray a dysfunctional, unloving family, it succeeded. If that really is the case, then I guess I’d have to give it props. But I’m not so sure that was the intention, and I certainly didn’t like it.
3. Mason isn’t a good representation of, well, boyhood.
We rarely see Mason smile. We rarely see Mason having fun. In fact, Mason is so boring that I think his father at one point comes close to openly acknowledging it, during the scene where Mason’s father is trying to tell him about magic or whatever, and eventually gives up because Mason doesn’t really have much in the way of an imagination.
Throughout the film, it mostly feels like Mason is a quiet observer rather than a player in his own story. Most of the events that happen at the beginning of the film happen to the entire family rather than Mason singularly, and most of the time he’s shown alone is when he’s walking from one place to another, riding his bike, or staring. He does a LOT of staring. (Knife Ink’s interjection: ANNOYED.)
If this film wanted to show what it’s like to be a boy, it really doesn’t show what a lot of boys are like rather than show what they spend their time doing, like the clichés of playing video games and looking at dirty magazines. But it doesn’t show what it feels like to be a boy, or a kid in general – what a confusing, scary place the world sometimes is. Kids ask questions. Kids are curious. Kids have feelings too. Mason, like the film, really, is an emotional vacuum.
4. (The biggest point for me) The film sacrifices the actual emotions of its characters for its “avant-garde” technique and style.
Speaking of emotional vacuums, yeah, that was the biggest problem for me.
Possibly the question I asked myself the most during the viewing of this film is, “Well, that’s nice – but how do you FEEL about that?”
This movie lacks genuine emotions. I’m not saying that it can’t make you feel things – it didn’t leave me completely empty, which we’ll get to later – I’m saying that the characters don’t really show how they feel. The jerk sister is a jerk. WHY is she a jerk? What does she feel to make her a jerk? The mother’s first boyfriend is an angry, violent drunk. WHY is he an angry, violent drunk? I mean, I know some people lapse into alcoholism without any notable reason, but how many times have you seen the crazy drunkard stepfather before?
Mason doesn’t show us his emotions. He has no motivations, no likes, no dislikes, no hobbies beyond photography, nothing. Zip. Zero. Even the breakup with his girlfriend is so rushed and immediate it feels completely put in for the sake of itself. Hell, even the girlfriend accuses him of having no feelings.
There’s a scene at the end of the film, right before Mason starts to go off to college, where the mother breaks down crying and says, “What was the point?” This was the only part of the film I felt started to go into the actual emotions of one of the characters, if briefly. But most of all, it summed up exactly what I thought of the film. What was the point?
Sure, we see Mason growing up. Sure, we see and hear a lot of the things kids saw and heard if they grew up in the 21st century. But beyond those things merely being there for the sake of being there, what do they prove? What do they say? What is their point? That boyhood is mundane and meaningless and full of people that don’t like you very much?
The only part of the film I found myself enjoying was the last shot, where Mason and his new friend stare off into the great unknown before college. That was a breathtakingly beautiful shot. Expertly filmed.
If only it had come after a movie that had meant anything.
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Disclaimer: I am not bashing anyone for liking this movie. If you like this movie, great. There are certainly worse things to like. I just call ’em as I see ’em.