That is what Linklater is getting at in his film—well, without the religious aspect, anyway. The only time religion pops up in the film is when Mason ventures outside the liberal embrace of Austin to visit his grandparents where, to his eye-rolling chagrin, they present him with a Bible and take him to a worship service. Mason’s condescending reaction is probably an honest portrayal of a kid who has never set foot inside a church in his life, but, still, it’s a little off-putting.
In fact, the characters are one of the film’s biggest flaws. I know, I know—I’m risking ostracization from the community of film critics by suggesting there’s actually something wrong with “Boyhood,” but the fact is that the characters in and of themselves aren’t that interesting. Olivia is a rather hopeless figure who picks up a consecutively worse new husband every few years, while Mason Sr. is a self-centered man-child suffering from chronic Bush derangement syndrome. As for Samantha and Mason, they’re just kind of bland.
The other problem with the movie is that some of the scripting and acting, especially in the earlier scenes, is just bad. There, I’ve said it. Now I’ll wait for my fellow movie reviewers to send me notes telling me to shut up, stay home, and never write about another film as long as I live. But it’s the truth.
None of that stops “Boyhood” from being a great movie, though. At least not if you can connect with it, anyway. You see, even with it’s unimpressive characters, “Boyhood” still has the potential to tap into a viewer’s own life experiences. That’s not to say you’ll recognize yourself in Mason per se (you’re probably better off if you don’t), but as the film proceeds, you just might start to recognize how your own sense of self developed through all the ordinary times of your adolescence. It might remind you of how you came to be you.
Trust me, I know how sketchy that sounds, but that’s truly how the film operates. “Boyhood” isn’t one of those movies you casually enjoy or appreciate, you just have to feel it. If you can make that emotional connection, you’ll leave very satisfied. But if it doesn’t work for you, well, then I’m afraid you’ll be left thinking you just watched the most overrated movie of the year.
In a world he didn’t create, in a time he didn’t choose, one man looks for signs of God in the world by… watching movies. When he’s not reviewing new releases for Aleteia, David Ives spends his time exploring the intersection of low-budget/cult cinema and Catholicism at The B-Movie Catechism.