The Beav wasn’t as impressed by this film as I felt he should be. He liked the concept and was interested in the characters, but ultimately, he felt like the plain style was a failing. I asked some questions and, best I can figure, he would have preferred something more lyrical and expressive. This is definitely a legitimate criticism but it’s difficult for me to imagine anyone pulling it off given that the story and it’s outcome were so uncertain at the beginning of the decade-long shoot.
For my part I got caught up enough in the story of these families that style was largely invisible, and I felt things I normally don’t at a cinema: for example, I felt pride when the boy graduated from high school, and not simply happiness. Other small authentic details came as a genuine, felt relief: that Patricia Arquette gained weight, that getting a good job meant paying bills (not riches and an escape from economic reality), that the dad sells his car and is untouched when his kid pouts about it.
The biggest surprise for me was that a movie called Boyhood does not idealize youth or present adulthood as loss and so stands apart from much of popular culture. Here, adults cope with ordinary problems and as the children grow these problems affect them more and more: alcoholism, the need for love and its risks, the relentless threat of poverty. Yet the parents change, grow, and yes, become better people as they gain experience. In response to bad timing, missed opportunities or poor choices, they work, they do their best, and slowly over time, the chaos and uncertainty of youth are gradually replaced with a kind of stability and success.
This end point is low-key and imperfect. These adults continue to have problems, they struggle still, but there is beauty in the compromises they strike. And that beauty reads as a hope that neither high school nor college must necessarily be the best years of this boy’s life. Which rings true.