boyhoodReleased: 2014
Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke

Ambitious, but over-rated


When I first heard about Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood, the story of a family told over a span of 12 years and filmed over that same timeframe, I was thoroughly excited. It was such a bold idea and had the potential to be a generation defining narrative. Reviews and critical acclaim only heightened my expectation with the film topping many critics’ Top Tens of 2014 and Patricia Arquette winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. I finally sat down to watch Boyhood and enjoy one of the films I’ve been anticipating most for a couple of years and was … well…. underwhelmed.

Starting when Mason is six years old, we follow a family’s fortunes for over a decade. Single mum Olivia is raising her children Mason and Samantha with little input from her ex-husband Mason Sr (Ethan Hawke) and over the 12 years as her children go through their school years, Olivia does her best to create a better life for her family.

I almost turned off after the first fifteen minutes. It really did just begin as obnoxious people being obnoxious to each other and raising obnoxious, squealing children. It did, thankfully, get better. The story is told in small vignettes which offer insights into the family’s life but there isn’t any particularly joined up narrative – one scene shows Mason being bullied at school, but this is never mentioned again or appears to have any impact on his character’s development. I can understand this to an extent – we’re merely glimpsing the family’s story and can’t fit in all the multiple strands and events which occur, but I would have preferred a little more structure.

The acting is mostly decent although I do think that Patricia Arquette was over-rewarded. Her performance was good, but not great. Ellar Coltrane was very good as Mason Jr, it must have been a relief for Linklater when it turned out that he was a decent actor. Ethan Hawke was great as Mason Sr, but his role was relatively small.

My main problem with the film was just how unlikeable the characters were and how little I cared about them. Mason was ok – a bit of an annoying kid, but believable enough. I couldn’t abide Olivia, she made bad decision after bad decision that impacted badly on her children’s life but still whined on about how tough her life was. Her big emotional scene when Mason is leaving for college is nothing more than a moan about how her life is tough. Boo hoo love, stop blaming your kids for your mistakes. I’m also guessing that Linklater has daddy issues. The male characters are fairly one-dimensional and all fit a dead-beat dad narrative.

There appeared to be little consistency in the characters from year to year. Mason Sr begins the film as a passionate liberal who hates George W. Bush and campaigns vigorously for Obama, yet when his son is given a personalised Bible and shotgun as a birthday present, he doesn’t raise any objections. It didn’t add up.

The ambition and commitment from the creative team is outstanding and I really wanted to like this more than I did but in the end I can’t help feeling that this was a triumph of style over substance.

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  1. Interesting review, Louise. I completely agree with you that it’s over rated. It’s a great idea and amazing dedication from all involved but the story is quite dull and, as you said, the characters just aren’t likeable.

    • Thanks Claire – of there had just been one likeable character it would have been a completely different film.

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