Linklater’s BOYHOOD, or, Why I Still Go to the Movies

The critical adulation for Linklater’s new film was so staggeringly positive–even popular outlets like USA Today and Rolling Stone gushed that it was all-but-perfect–I feared a letdown in my own experience. How could a movie, made by my favorite director, which received an unheard-of 100 “metascore” on imdb.com, possibly live up to my expectations? The situation reminded me of watching Michael Jordan in his prime: on the nights when he was merely great, and not transcendent, I felt slight disappointment.

I worried too about the premise: watching 12 episodes in the life of a young man would provide understanding of his personality, I presumed, but would it offer drama, excitement? Or, worse, would the excitement derive from contrived Adolescent Conflicts culled from customary coming-of-age stories? I wanted to be drawn in to the story, but not pandered to; I wanted to care, but didn’t want my emotions plucked with the expert handling one finds in Hollywood renditions of growing up. Above all, I wanted something new.

I needn’t have worried. Even in the early scenes–when, I confess, my interest was less galvanized than it was by the protagonist Mason’s middle- and high-school years–I could sense that something different was happening, though I couldn’t yet put my finger on what it was. As the scenes accumulate, and you watch Mason mature in body and mind, the viewer starts to feel a sympathy, an identity with the hero, that simply isn’t possible with conventional cinema. What I realized was that I was following this pilgrim’s progress with the engrossed engagement I get with a good novel.

Adding to my overall experience was the fact that I saw Boyhood at the Belcourt Theater in Nashville, by myself, on one of the last days of summer. Had lunch across the street at McDougal’s before, bought a big Diet Coke, enjoyed 20 minutes of previews before the feature began. When the film was over, my first response was to buy another ticket and enjoy the entire experience again … but real life, and my own children’s childhoods, took precedence. The only cinematic pleasure from the last ten years that comes close to this one was watching Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty last year, but that will have to wait for another post.

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