Friday, July 11, 2014

Life Itself

The best thing I can say about Richard Linklater's new film Boyhood is actually a very good thing - I can't stop thinking about it. Last night, this morning as I got ready and rode the subway to work, there it was. I don't know if you've noticed lately I've been having a hard time getting out movie reviews with some consistency, so to be plunking down here the morning after with a whole lot to say really is a big something. I mean they're not all good thoughts. Mostly I've been trying to work out why the movie didn't capture me as emotionally as I wanted it to. It built a lot I goodwill for its running time - there really is something so simple but deeply profound in watching the same faces age up and carry us through the years, and so I was down for being moved. But there was still a disconnect.

And I think what it comes down to, and this has been my problem with Linklater's work in general (yeah I'm the guy who doesn't much like the Before trilogy) - and he's got a filmography which I will be the first to admit is admirable in how open and honest and humanistic it comes off as; he feels true to who he is as a filmmaker and just who he is every time - thing is, Richard Linklater and I are just too different as people. It's not you, Richard, it's me - we'll more specifically it's us. We clash. We're like an acoustic guitar dipped in peanut butter, you and me, Richard Linklater. You can tell Richard's really into it if somebody breaks out some drums at three in the morning, sitting around singing to each other, expressing philosophical arguments over Kumbayas. 

And I'm not knocking him for it... well not too bad. He seems like a fundamentally decent man, and I deeply appreciate that decency being put out into the world. I really do get how generous (I keep coming back to that word) a filmmaker he is - like say here with Boyhood one example from late in the film (so I guess spoilers, as much as a fairly generic A to B to C expression of life can be spoiled) is that he really did transport me to that place and time at the start of college, hanging out with new friends and taking acid for the first time and watching the sun rise and feeling like the entire world was right there at the end of my hands... I remember. I was one with the fucking Cosmos. But Linklater, bless him, sees substance and maybe some enlightenment in that, you can feel it oozing through his camera. But I just look back at those moments and I kinda cringe.

And is the movie cringing at this moment? Most definitely no. And I'm sure plenty of people don't want it to cringe. They shake their heads at me for wanting to cringe at that, man. But me, I need it to cringe. I'm not at all trying to be condescending when I say I'm fine with that. With our separate spheres. Whoever is getting something from that, from sitting around a campfire singing songs, that is lovely, for you. It's just not connecting with the way my brain is wired.

So what does it say about me then, that this Boyhood movie, I spent a hefty chunk of it in abject terror. Of what you ask, while slightly strumming you guitar. Of mortality - watching time pass in this simple and straightforward manner filled me with the fear of death. (Hi, I'm me.) 

But watching it from this perspective isn't a fruitless endevour - it's there. Listen for all the times they talk about being safe while driving, or we watch somebody text or drink while driving - early on in the film a dangerous car situation involving a drunk driver sets the mood, and it hangs over the rest of the film. And so every time the film cut back to a driving scene my stomach fell right out of me, expecting that shot we've come to know so well of a car flying straight at us through a drivers-side window. And the film, I swear to you, plays with this. It cuts back to driving scenes using them like the night-time cut to night-vision scenes in Paranormal Activity movies, where we immediately tense up.There is death all over this film - people talk about it, and dangers hang in the air (try to watch that scene of the kids messing around in a house under construction and not picture half of them sliced to ribbons by saw blades by the time ti's done, I double dog dare you).

And see, there, it says something about the film that I was this afraid for the characters. For the investment we get watching them grow - for the simple revolutionary act that Linklater's captured with this twelve-year long experiment. So I'm not dismissing this movie out of hand. There's something to it. It's burrowed into my head for good and for not as good. And I'd just love to watch a version of this movie made by somebody whose camera thinks that watching Ethan Hawke sing is akin to being dipped into an eternal lake of hellfire.


Roark said...

Agreed, mostly. Boyhood is great in a lot of ways, but it lost me once the kid turned 15 or 16. Well, not lost me, but prompted a LOT of eye rolling. Plus, I was sad to see Patricia Arquette slowly relegated to the back bench.

sissyinhwd said...

I'm with you I was strangely unmoved. And like you I kept thinking someone was going to get hurt in a car. All that "Put on you seatbelts." It's a good movie but I thought for all the thought and dedication behind it the film is really nothing that profound.

newgeorge said...

I always check rotten tomatoes before I watch a film. A film is an investment in time and, often, emotion too. 96% red suggested it would be worth watching "boyhood" and the earliest scenes - the strange relationship between mum and dad, the fighting kids, the harrassed single mom, they were convincing and touching too. At the first disjoint - when the film suddenly jumps to nasty hubbie two and mom suddenly becomes this coerced and browbeaten wifie I was confused. Was this really even the same people? Ia this a different household? After this, there was a bleak trajectory into a complete misconception of what life is actually about and, towards the end of this utterly mundane parade of "significant days in M. J's life the mom finally seals the deal when she announces, after her only tearful moment in the entire film, in a fit of pique that she "thought there would be more". And that is more or less what I was thinking about this tedious and, to my mind ridiculously overrated, film. It reminded me of when I look back through my own photo albums and think "Is this all there is?" But then, my answer is always a firm "no". This film misses the point in a colossal way.