Boyhood

January 30, 2015 by  
Filed under Movies

Richard Linklater has a way of turning the mundane and ordinary into something fascinating and hypnotic. Whether it’s the sweet, comical “Dazed and Confused” or the more subdued “Before Sunrise”, Linklater can pull you into his narrative with his aloof style that somehow keeps you watching. Maybe it’s the engaging characters or the appealing dialog, but I’ve never sat through one of his films and felt bored and detached, even though the atmosphere sometimes brings those kinds of characters to life.

With “Boyhood”, Linklater really tests your patience because the film clocks in at almost 3 hours (2 hrs 44 min). It follows 12 years in the life of a family, focusing on Mason Evans Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) growing up–but even though the film is called “Boyhood”, I think it deals with life in general as well as adolescence and maturity.

The story begins when Mason is 6 years old, living with his mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and older sister Samantha (Lorelai Linklater) in an apartment. Olivia has a bachelor-like boyfriend who doesn’t like that she has kids and a lifestyle that doesn’t fit his, so the two breakup. She decides to move back near her mother, taking the kids with her, so they can start a better life. She wants to go to school and she wants the kids to be in a house. Their biological father steps back into the picture (played by Ethan Hawke), and he represents the cool, irresponsible life that Olivia’s trying to leave behind. Mason Sr. lets the kids have fun and tells them about current events and things, but has very little to share about what it means to be accountable for anything.

As Mason grows up, they move in with various families, and home situations that are less than ideal. One stepfather seems like a good guy and has it all together, but soon unravels and shows himself to be an abusive drunk behind the picket fence and pretty white house. There’s an ex-military stepdad who tries to be nonchalant about the kids’ lives, but he seems unhappy and uninterested in helping them out too. He also is keen on drinking. But the film doesn’t have big dramatic moments or steep itself in sentimentality or melodrama. There’s almost a lazy eye feel to the insight into the characters’ lives. It’s not unfeeling, it just doesn’t have an agenda of obligatory drama.

The film, while lengthy, never stays in one place too long–much like the characters. There are a lot of elements thrown into the story, moving at a pace that lingers just long enough to reflect on a situation. In some ways I felt like many of the little stories could have been their own movies. This could’ve been a miniseries.

It still works as a film, though. Mason’s life is interesting, and as he grows up, he does become a bit insufferable as the artsy, pretentious, hipster-like “intellectual”. The film begins with him being very quiet but ends with him always having something to say. I didn’t feel that Linklater was trying to make a point of saying Mason was “what you should be” when you grow up, or make some statement about how intelligent kids can be. This is what an adolescent does. His sister Samantha forms the same kind of life, shutting out most of her family as she grows up. And Olivia, being the wanna-be responsible but utterly hopeless nomad, seems to be stuck in the middle rather than taking control. While she seems to criticize Mason Sr.’s instability with his own life, she doesn’t show that she has much of a handle on her own.

The flaws of the parents can be seen as destructive to their kids’ lives–but this film is not about judging them. It’s not a judgment at all. It’s simply a glimpse into people’s lives. You can take whatever you want from their decisions, opinions, lifestyles, what have you. Many people won’t agree with how they go about their lives. But Linklater’s not lecturing or proving a point. Sometimes life is just about observing, and reflecting.

As Mason Jr. states, rather well, late in the film–“It’s always right now”. And this film is living in that moment throughout. It’s engrossing, sometimes chilling, sometimes funny, but always interesting; and in the end, satisfying.

My rating: :-)

Introspective: “Kids” (1995) Vs. “Dazed and Confused” (1993)

August 20, 2011 by  
Filed under Blog, Entertainment, Home Video

I have no idea where this came from. Maybe I was just thinking of teen movies and these two popped into my head randomly. It happens. But it got me thinking of the stark differences of the film “Kids” released in 1995, directed by Larry Clarke and written by then 19 year old Harmony Korine; and “Dazed and Confused” released in 1993 written and directed by Richard Linklater.

OK, obvious thing jumps out first: one is a comedy, a retrospective piece of nostalgia; the other is a realistic drama of the present times in teenage culture. I realize that there are major differences. But I find the differences interesting and that’s why I’m writing this. Linklater’s film is almost a love letter to the 70’s; but also, to those last days of “innocence” that we have when we don’t have to pay for the consequences we ultimately will when we become adults.

“Kids” shows us the price we do pay.

I’ll say right off the bat, that I like both of these films. But it took me a while to appreciate “Kids”. I was a teenager when this film came out, and I rented it after seeing all of the praise. Honestly, I didn’t care for it when I first saw it. I was in the wrong mind-set. I knew these kids. I saw this almost every weekend with people I knew. And I hated these kids. I resented them and hated the fact that they were being given this kind of screen time. But I missed the point. That was the idea. You weren’t supposed to condone what these kids did. Meanwhile, in “Dazed and Confused”, which I saw when I was in my 20’s, I enjoyed it as I would any nostalgic film about adolescence or growing up.

So let’s go ahead and get into the plots of the two films. If you’ve never seen it, “Kids” depicts a sort of “Day in the Life” of street kids from New York that seemingly have no parental influence at all. The gang is led by a kid named Telly (played wonderfully by Leo Fitzpatrick) who has a pretty dark secret and loves deflowering virgins. But not only virgins…young virgins. We’re talking 13, 14 year old girls. That’s his whole MO. And that’s actually what I hated first of all about this film. Its protagonist, it seemed, was such a scumbag. As the plot progressed, there were no consequences for him at all. He got away with everything. It was disgusting. It was vile. He was such a pig. And yes, all of this was lost on me. I really thought there would be some kind of redemption. Years later, I’d realize that all of the stupid things these kids do in a 24 hour period are exactly what we see every day while we’re growing up, and we do nothing about it. Larry Clarke and Harmony Korine weren’t trying to say that these kids have any hope at all–they’re showing kids for what they are. And these kids were hopeless. But there are some characters we do take pity on. Well, for one thing, the innocent virgins that are sacrificed at the hands of this total pig named Telly. And I think giving him a spreadable disease was a stroke of genius by Korine because we take for granted all of the promiscuity of our youth. We don’t think of the consequences, and that’s exactly the point of “Kids”. Now, is he offering what we can do to stop it? No. Is that irresponsible? Well…maybe. But maybe we try to bury all of that truth. Certainly in the 50’s, the youth culture is depicted as Soda and Ice Cream Shop farers who think that holding hands is a real sign of true love. But was it reality? Maybe what “Kids” is just trying to do is expose the truth in any generation of youth, not just the 90’s. 90’s youth culture wasn’t so innocently depicted. We were depressed and we had Nirvana, and we had flannel. But parents, in any generation, will put the ear muffs and blind folds on and think their kids are fine when they’re not. “Kids” is not a dated movie.

Now, moving on to “Dazed and Confused”–this movie is dated as far as it’s stamped with being in the 1970’s. But it’s not dated in its depiction of youth. The story revolves around the final days of some of the students, and some of the first days of freshmen, and some even in between. They’re all going to the same party, and some are smoking weed, all are drinking, and some are going to have sex. But there’s a sense of fun about this film. The kids aren’t ever depressed or reflective. They’re simply acting upon what’s going on in their world. Some are nerds and geeks, some are princesses, some are burnouts. All of them are there for a common purpose, even if they’re at odds with each other. But even in the few tension filled instances, we’re never worried about these characters. And so we’re presented with the difference between the two movies: “Dazed and Confused” is a comedy that shows very little of the consequences. But it does show promiscuity, underage drinking, all of the things those parent groups rail against. So why is this movie so damn charming?

Well, tone says everything. First of all, there isn’t one mention of a sexually transmitted disease, which I’m sure was rampant in the 70’s, just like any other teenage generation. Second, these kids don’t get caught. They don’t really suffer any consequences. They represent the idealistic way we think about our past. We don’t remember the bad things. We just remember how much fun we had. Now, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I’m simply pointing out the tone of the film, which is on the other spectrum from “Kids”.

“Kids” wants you to see the reality. The scabs, the scars. “Dazed and Confused” is the make-up and photoshopping. And both serve separate purposes. “Kids” will make you sick to your stomach, even though you’re watching kids do almost the same things you’re seeing in “Dazed and Confused”. But “Dazed and Confused” doesn’t show things in a negative light, either. And there is an innocence to it, with the focal point of the freshman who has a crush on a sophomore that also thinks he’s cute. The way these two communicate and develop is so adorable, you can’t help but root for them. That isn’t present in “Kids”. In “Kids”, those two kids would’ve had sex and one of them or both of them would’ve regretted it.

So now you’re probably wondering why I’m wasting all of this word count on such an obvious argument. Well, what I guess I’m trying to say is, we need both of these films. We need to be reminded that the past was fun, youth was fun, youth needs to be celebrated and youth needs to be innocent. But we also need to be reminded that it isn’t all fun, it isn’t all games, and the harsh reality is just what it is.

The kids in “Dazed and Confused” would most likely look back 20 years later and say, “Man those were good times.” The kids in “kids” would most likely look back and say, “How are we still alive?”

Well both of those are valid, and the great thing is…if you are still alive, then you at least have the chance to remember those good times. Whatever you still have to live with, you’ll never get those times again. “Kids” and “Dazed and Confused” remind you, in very different ways, that they’re precious, and that taking anything for granted is part of youth–and whether you treasure it or you throw it away or you plague others with your self-destruction, it’s all still just a parth of youth. Kind of profound…something you’ll never appreciate while you’re that age.

“Kids” reveals something harsher, “Dazed and Confused” reveals something more enjoyble. It’ll depend on how you are as a filmgoer to determine which movie you’ll appreciate more. But coming from me, appreciate both. Equally. Just on different terms.