In the “timing is everything” category, how marvellously coincidental to see Boyhood soon after Finding Vivian Maier. In both films, still photography plays an important part of the narrative.
In the former, real-life photographer Vivian Maier’s unheralded career (she never “pushed” her considerable skills and huge volume of work) is put under the microscope (cross-reference below). In the latter, fictional Mason Jr.’s life is inventively chronicled from ages 5 to 18, as the young man opts to build on his passion for photography and make a life around it. Both productions are deservedly up for Academy Awards: Maier for its “find”; Boyhood for its filmmaking patience (director/writer Richard Linklater—instead of using a covey of actors to show the passage of time for his main characters—courageously stuck with one cast and waited out the dozen years that the story spans).
Alas, it is that very methodology that spoils the result: the fictionalized drama doesn’t convincingly fit the skins of the actors as they patiently wait for their next scene. As well, Linklater relies far too heavily on circumstantial—with no payoff vignettes (e.g. the gay-taunt bullying in the school washroom) or preachy (both Mason’s fast food boss and high school photography teacher serve up nuance-lite helpings of tough love on cue) “milestones” that come off just as contrived as they sound.
Mason’s Mom (Patricia Arquette) is saddled with three failed marriages (unable to stop herself in two of them from bedding roaring alcoholics—the second of which, Brad Hawkins, descends into the drink wearing his freshly ironed uniform 24/7) and the apparent inability of teaching her two children (older sister Samantha—Lorelei Linklater) the power of love over selfishness. Her departure from Drunk No. 1 (Marco Perella can’t find the depth and inner struggle of a successful professor who brazenly preys on a wide-eyed student only to hide jumbo-sized booze bottles behind the laundry detergent!—as if those would never have been found…my grandfather concealed his much more effectively in a small creek). After a too-loud-by-half start, Ethan Hawke’s portrayal of the original dad provides the best overall performance of the cast.
Without a doubt, the last act works best. Here the family members all go their separate ways, which comes as quite a relief on both sides of the screen (save and except for Mom’s weepy middle-age breakdown). Perhaps Mason will find himself through his art rather than his family, just as Maier’s obsession with truly interesting people allowed her to put off, if never tame her demons.
Special kudos for the music selections and the copious amounts of guitars and—at one happy juncture—banjo. The lyrics were especially apt in underscoring Linklater’s points: from “If you love too much it will turn to hate” to “I don’t want to be your hero” and “I’m a kid like anyone else.”
The achievement was most certainly in the doing; now it’s time to follow someone else for a significant timespan but unscripted: let the subjects’ lives tell a story that would never have to be contrived or invented JWR