Richard Linklater’s Ordinary Boyhood

Boyhood

There have been those who have proclaimed Boyhood the greatest film of the 21st century.  And there’s a huge faction that believe it’s Richard Linklater’s magnum opus.  Though surely a 2014 Top Ten contender, I’m not even sure it’s the best film of the year thus far, and the Before- trilogy is still Linklater’s crowning achievement in my mind.   I suspect there’s been a bit of the old Group Think at work in delivering this hyperbolic praise.

But Boyhood is still a uniquely constructed film full of winning moments, performances…and flaws.

Filmed over the course of twelve years with the same four leads (two adults – Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, and two children – Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater) meeting with the writer/director to riff for a few weeks at a time in his sprawling Texas homeland, Boyhood is wholly original in its depiction of the passage of time and aging in the context of a singular work of cinema.

The early years of Mason’s life are depicted with an easy flow and are full of humor and charm.  The kids are naturally cute and precocious, and the director obviously had a blast letting his own daughter cut loose, gifting her classic sassy little girl lines and mannerisms that seemed organic.  I’ve heard him joke in interviews that Lorelei cast herself as soon as she found out her dad had written the role, and based on what is seen on screen in these early scenes, I reckon it’s a true story.  Meanwhile, Mom and Dad aren’t together from the onset, and while they have their own sets of problems, both Hawke and Arquette are so effortlessly likable, you instantly root for them to get their shit together…not so much for the kids’ sake, but for their own.

As the film moves into middle childhood and the teen years, it starts to plod a bit, and some of the clichéd and overwrought plot mechanics Linklater uses (Doh! Mom marries not one, but two alcoholics!) take away from the film’s realism.  It seems to get stuck there in middle school, but before we know it, Mason is a moody, mumbling high schooler…until he starts to drink and try soft drugs where Linklater attempts to recapture some of the old rambling magic that made the aimless philosophy of Slacker, Dazed and Confused, and Waking Life so enjoyable.  There are times, though, Mason comes across as so lackadaisical you want to shake him to wake him up.  He never really stands up for anything, though he does lash out eventually at stepdad number two to get off his back, and he does take a shining to the art of photography.  Linklater comically channels this feeling of wanting to shake (perhaps shape?) his protagonist through pep talks from his photography teacher and first boss (at least the kid gets a job much like I did at that age as a busboy/dishwasher with fry-cook aspirations). Continue reading

Don’t Mess with Texas or Bernie

And I pray unto thee, Dear Lord Baby Jesus, that Bernie gets what he deserves.

I should preface this review by saying I’m no fan of Jack Black (though I think he sometimes gets an unfair wrap) or Shirley MacLaine (she’s a shrill weird old lady) or Matthew McConaughey (beat your bongos, son).  I like some of director Richard Linklater’s oeuvre – most notably Slacker, Waking Life, Dazed and Confused and the Before Sunrise/Sunset films, but he’s made plenty of duds especially when he tries to go mainstream.  Suffice it to say I didn’t pay any attention when this foursome got together to make Bernie

Yet I started to hear some good things – and the plot sounded interesting enough, and I was really bored one Sunday afternoon.  So there I was enjoying against all odds this tale of an affable busybody East Texas assistant funeral director (Black – nicely method and oddly endearing), the weird mean rich old bitty (MacLaine – well cast) he befriends, and the cocky country District Attorney (McConaughey – always better at comedy than drama and doing a tongue-in-cheek and dip-in-mouth riff on his own propensity to play impassioned lawyers) out to nail Bernie when the crazy lady turns up dead.

I’ve long made the case that the hardest film genre to pull off is the dark comedy.  But there’s a subgenre that’s even harder to pull off – the light dark comedy.  Successfully mixing elements of Gus Van Sant’s To Die For, Robert Altman’s Cookie’s Fortune and the mockumentaries of Christopher Guest, Linklater is spot-on in his delivery of this true-crime comedy.  Continue reading