Why the Unanimous Praise for ‘Boyhood’ Is Bad for Film Criticism — and for ‘Boyhood’

Why the Unanimous Praise for 'Boyhood' Is Bad for Film Criticism — and for 'Boyhood'

Enforced uniformity is normally the province of action-movie fanboys, but at least a few cinephiles scowled when Matt Pais’ negative review of Richard Linklater’s "Boyhood" was posted to Rotten Tomatoes on July 17, thus "spoiling" its previously perfect Fresh rating. Three weeks later, Pais’ 2-and-a-half-star notice is one of only two green splats amid a sea of red. On the other side of the ledger are 166 Fresh reviews which suggest that Linklater "has crafted what may be the most ingenious film of the century" and say that "Boyhood" "feels more like living a life than watching a movie." At Metacritic, its 47 reviews yield a perfect score of 100, making it one of only two movies to accomplish that feat on their initial release. (The other, the documentary "Best Kept Secret," has only four reviews.) 

So while the Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan isn’t, strictly speaking, the only critic to express reservations about "Boyhood," you can understand how he might feel that way. "If you do it right, film criticism is a lonely job," he writes in an article explaining why he’s one of few critics not to fall in love with the movie. "But some films make it lonelier than others. Films like ‘Boyhood.’"

Turan is not, he hastens to add, a hater, but for him, the concept underlying Linklater’s film was more entrancing than its execution. And so, faced with being out of step with the vast majority of his critical peers, and not wanting to "rain on its parade," Turan stepped down from reviewing "Boyhood" and passed the baton to his colleague Betsy Sharkey, who ended up calling it "an extraordinarily intimate portrait of a life unfolding and an exceptional, unconventional film in which not much else occurs."

Given that the raves for "Boyhood" began to pour in the second the end credits rolled on its first screening at Sundance, perhaps it’s not surprising that the small handful of dissents are, like Turan’s, preoccupied with their own eccentricity. Of the 14 sentences Armond White devotes to "Boyhood," fully half of them are devoted to characterizing its audience — or, more precisely, diagnosing the "think-alike idolators" who love the film. For White, "Praising the deliberately mundane ‘Boyhood’ fits the pattern unconsciously followed by most culture writers (who also tend to be white males) seeking to confirm their own privilege and importance — but without examining it."

Patheos’ Cusey says she saw Ellar Coltrane’s Mason as "one of those Millennials who drifts through life, unconsciously embracing his entitlement attitude, never finding a passion for which to fight or a real problem to overcome." That critics love it has less to do with their "demographic sameness" than a uniformity of mindset: "The type of person drawn towards criticism tends to be urban, liberal, and/or progressive, a mindset that I think of as BlueState."

Mark Judge identifies "Boyhood" as a beneficiary of "’Sideways’ Syndrome," named for Times A.O. Scott’s thesis that critics were overly kind to Alexander Payne’s movie because they saw themselves in his protagonist, a tubby elitist with anger issues who uses his purportedly elevated sense of aesthetics to compensate for his feelings of personal failure. (In the New Yorker, Rebecca Mead called "Boyhood" "the apotheosis of relatability." She did not mean it as a compliment.)

"Something similar may be going on with ‘Boyhood,’" Judge writes:

Movie critics identify with Mason’s social awkwardness, the liberalism of his biological parents, even the gender-bending when Mason lets a girl paint his nails. Ann Hornaday: “By the time Mason, now a deep-voiced teenager, affects an earring, blue nail polish and an artistic interest in photography, viewers get the feeling that he’s dodged at least most of the misogynist conditioning of a boy’s life.” Yes, and he’s also missed the passion, and conflict, and girl-crazy adrenaline-rushed joy of being a boy.

I would argue there’s at least as much projection in Cusey and Judge’s takes as in any of "Boyhood’s" positive reviews: Cusey’s distaste for Mason’s "entitlement attitude," her vision of him becoming one of those kids currently in their parents’ basement… still waiting for something to come along and bring meaning to his life" ignores — willfully, one has to conclude — the extent to which "Boyhood" foregrounds his parents’ financial difficulties and fast-forwards right past the restaurant job Mason works the summer before college. As for Judge’s assumption that a partial freedom from "misogynist conditioning" is somehow incompatible with the "girl-crazy adrenaline-rushed joy of being a boy" — well, that’s between him and his therapist.

It strains credulity to argue that the overwhelmingly white and male makeup of the film critical profession has nothing to do with the uniformity of "Boyhood’s" reviews, especially given the feeling-all-the-feels quality of some of the more breathless raves. But that line of argument ironically erases the voices of critics who found their way into "Boyhood" without being white or male: the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis and Grantland’s Wesley Morris, to name only two of its most eloquent appraisers. 

Although I fit the demographic profile, I found myself identifying much more with Mason’s parents than Mason himself, or rather, seeing myself in their place: As a parent, my experience of "Boyhood" was much less about being Mason than watching him grow up, observing the changes in his body and his voice as a boy became a young man. One of the hoariest, and truest, clichés of parenting is that time moves more quickly than you can ever imagine. "Boyhood" is that process compressed into a manageable span: "It Goes So Fast: The Movie."

Kenneth Turan has his own hypotheses about why he didn’t fall for "Boyhood": He’s lost his taste for coming-of-age movies; he’s always been cool to Linklater’s work. But I wish he had reviewed it, and not only because I think critical uniformity is bad for the profession. While there’s no question that "Boyhood" will remain one of the best-reviewed movies of the year, reducing the reviews to an aggregate score — especially a "perfect" one — only makes it worse. Delve into those reviews, and you’ll find they hit a lot of the same notes, but you’ll find some different ones as well — and even some that (gasp!) register criticisms of "Boyhood" on their way to the eventual thumbs-up. 

I was deeply moved by "Boyhood," but that doesn’t overwhelm the clumsiness of the scenes involving Patricia Arquette’s progression of bad-idea boyfriends, or counterbalance the movie’s relative aesthetic neutrality. (The movies that have thrilled me this year, a list that includes "The Grand Budapest Hotel," "Under the Skin," "A Most Wanted Man" and "The Babadook," have both substance and style.) What bothers me about the chorus of hosannas is that it has a way of drowning out voices that are even slightly dissonant: Oscar blogger Sasha Stone, who has been hyping the movie’s Metacritic score as a totem of its award-worthiness, was moved to respectfully but superfluously counter Turan’s dissent, lest the slightest negative sentiment about "Boyhood" take root. 

"We live," Turan writes, "in a culture of hyperbole," one where "we yearn to anoint films and call them masterpieces, perhaps to make our own critical lives feel more significant because it allows us to lay claim to having experienced something grand and meaningful." Masterpieces, however, are not made so by unanimous praise, but by careful scrutiny. Criticisms, and the extent to which they illuminate the fascinating imperfections beneath those masterpieces’ surfaces, only make them stronger. 

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Comments

malik usammeh

worst movie ive seen since crash. this is a pure propaganda piece that subtly mocks the right, guns and chritianity.; everything bad in this movie was a republican and everything good a democrat liberal….its a horrible movie and obvious paid propaganda when 98%…..98% for this GARBAGE?

V. Edwards

Completely boring…I fell asleep. Can’t understand at all why it got awards. People must have flatness to their brain and like to watch paint dry.

johnm3329

Boyhood is the number 1 boring movie of the year. Yawn. Waste of money. Go to college.

William

I viewed the movie last night and really it was a waste of time and was a big letdown. I guess it would be creative if a movie makes you feel as if your not watching a movie but living a life, if in fact that life is at all interesting, in this case it’s like watching grass grow. I ended up not caring about the characters in the movie at all, a perpetual study on the unexceptional , that’s what I got from this movie.

Coquina Beach

Just finished watching this on vudu. About as compelling as watching grass grow. Incredibly ordinary characters and their trail through 12 years is completely uninspiring and nothing more unique than what happens every day in a teen’s life, an apathetic and self-absorbed one, at that.

Tex Shelters

"Don’t be fooled into thinking "Boyhood" is great because its technique is unusual. It is a case of style over substance and quality." PTxS

(See my review at IMDb)

Jennifer Stewart

Rotten Tomatoes says the critics’ consensus is that Boyhood is a commentary on the human condition. Actually it’s a [very damning] commentary on that part of the middle class that’s numbed out. Where potential in kids never gets realized, where dreams are tiny little niggles that barely make themselves heard through the fog. Where people shuffle along towards death and a realization that it was all pointless.

It’s a perspective on life and a lot of people do subscribe to it and live it out but it’s not the entire human condition. The part that’s missing here is that part of us which responds to those niggles and prompts us to fight with everything we have to dissipate the fog. And plenty of people succeed.

The blurb calls Boyhood ‘groundbreaking’. I disagree. The concept of using the same actors for 12 years for a movie is unusual for the movie industry, that’s all. For the rest, it’s self indulgent film-making and script writing. It’s easy to write a 180 page script or thereabouts, which Boyhood was, but it’s not so easy to masterfully edit that down to 120 pages or less and still say everything the longer version says. Linklater could have said the same things in less than half the time, which would have let the real brilliance of this film shine out.

Some of the dialogue is gorgeous, chock full of subtext, and I loved the characters, but I found myself getting very frustrated with how much of it is inane and doesn’t illustrate anything and how the real genius is so watered down that in the end the film has become not just a commentary on, but a product of middle-class aimlessness. Maybe it was intentional, I don’t know.

Lloyd

I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s seen it and thought it was anything more than okay. Personally I thought it was a turgid, drawn out TV drama.

max

I really liked the Michael Apted ‘Up’ series. Trying same thing w/fictionalised characters made for a very very very long 3hrs.

Dave

So, to sum up: "It’s impossible for any movie to be liked by everyone. Every movie must have flaws that reduce from a grade of 10 to 9 or 100 to 99 or etc." That’s what you’re saying.

Matt Spivey

Couldn’t agree more with your analysis of the excessive praise of "Boyhood". Are you willing to be just as brave by saying the same thing about "Selma"? See my piece "On Selma" English Champion dot weebly dot com

D R

I just saw Boyhood and I would say that it is incredibly dull and poorly written. The dialogue was forced (something akin to a college screenwriter’s first draft), the characters were uninteresting, the story lacked any real conflict and the main character was the single-most uninteresting artist growing up that I’ve ever known (and in real life since we are a family of artists and of all of the people we knew throughout art school, those who reminded me of Mason were the least interesting or profoundly moving in their lives or work. ) All in all, this film was a weak attempt with its only saving grace being the fast paced progression of two young people (Mason and Sam) as they developed physically. The balance of their development was neither compelling nor interesting and the time spent watching this film could have been better spent doing just about anything else.

Bave

Poor acting made me lose interest in every character. After both kids starting growing up I dreaded each scene with them in it. We completely lose Sam’s perspective halfway in. Forced…. Forced scenes; "hey lady gracias for telling me to go to school", "roar im drink bad decision man who you thought you liked watch me be mean cuz of beer roar"

Kangell

The charm of Linklater’s films has always been a straight-ahead realism; if you’re expecting some Hollywood bombast or Indie-flick quirkiness it would be easy to feel unsatisfied. I thought that the telling of this boy’s story that included struggles and achievements that were relatable to an every-day American like myself was charming and even life-affirming. The film nears it’s end with him questioning what life is all about and is there a point to any of it, and concludes with him in a moment of sincere happiness and a sense of wonder as to what the future might hold. I felt like the final scene was the twinkle of an eye. It left a smile on my face. And in the end, I’m glad that not EVERYBODY gets it. It felt like a personal film to me, so it’s preferable that it’s not that way to everyone else. But it’s a shame, because it’s a beautiful film.

Whatup

Boyhood was a huge letdown. I rented it after I heard it won a golden globe. Two terrible parents basically promoting high school sex, drinking and pot. It was really annoying that they had to put it a political scene too. Of course the deadbeat dad who is supposed to be cool and part of a band would be pro Obama. What a joke. Liberal bandwagon movie. The kid and his sister were super dull and a drag to watch. The concept was genius so I thought it was going to be great but it was laced with hidden liberal messages and two boring ass stupid teens who don’t have critical minds but fall into the drink beer, smoke pot and pretend to be mature enough to have a sex life in high school. What a joke.

daniel

I couldnt finish this movie. It was ABSOLUTE S—!

sonny smithers

I couldn’t last 10 minutes into this bore, I can’t believe any loser would would devote over 3 hours of their life to this absolute pointless bore.

Taylor

This is one of the best thought pieces of 2014. Thanks for the insight, Sam. Loved every second of it.

james blatt

Good movie. But I preferred "American Sniper". That’s my best picture of the year.

Ryan in l.a.

It’s classic Linklater. Lots of insightful dialogue and fascinating moments. The alcoholic stepdad and his effect on Mason was very moving. But in the end it goes nowhere. If you’ve seen Waking Life or Dazed & Confused you know Linklater’s fascination with spineless, sensitive adolescent males. And Boyhood is more of the same. It’s like a collage full of beautiful images that looks like crap when you view it from a distance.

Cheri

Overly hyped, super boring movie is what Boyhood is. I love Patricia Arquette in pretty much everything, which is why I saw this movie. First of all, the movie isn’t really about boyhood. If anything, it is about motherhood. Single motherhood. The actor who plays the boy, Ellar Coltrane, doesn’t really emote and looks like he is just walking through the scenes. Patricia is not at her best in this film, despite the Golden Globe win. Some of the scenes feel so artificial, like the fake reality TV shows. Ethan Hawke in particular is really, really bad in this. He is so over-the-top in his scenes with his son that you almost feel like he is hamming it up for the camera. I blame all three of those bad to mediocre performances on the director. The only standout in the entire film is the actress who plays the sister, Lorelei Linklater. Her scenes are the only ones that feel natural, real and interesting. Could the fact that her scenes, the direction of her in her scenes…had to do with the fact that her father was the director of this film? He was able to get a great performance from his daughter…but the direction of the rest of the cast was lost.

DJ

I found myself getting impatient as I watched this film. After all the raving reviews, I was left underwhelmed with the whole thing. I clearly saw the faults and growth of the biological parents, understood their situations. However, the development of the main character and his sister left me feeling this was written by someone who only "thinks" they know kids, and that’s it. They only "think" it. I appreciated the unique concept of filming the actual growth and aging of the younger characters; I only wish as much thought and effort had been put into what they fully had shown as real "kids" growing up.

Phillip kelly

If a reviewer backs down from writing a review that’s their problem not the movies. Let them be as lonely as they want. One reviewer changed the fate of Bonnie and Clyde by having a different opinion than the rest. I mean if a film is unanimously reviled should it create the same reaction? Bollocks article.

James

This review was as long-winded and reeked of as much self-importance as Boyhood

Lacking tension

Okay, well. I don’t like it because I find it bland. The characters certainly feel "relatable," in that I find them to be believable, as I find watching old home videos or Youtube videos believable, but not dramatically engaging. The film seems to have no arc, unless "growing up" is an arc; but young Mason doesn’t feel differentiated from old Mason, nor does even younger Dad seem differentiated from older Dad. Mom was the one who felt like she changed most, and even her arc is bland at best. The most emotionally charged (read: tense) moments happen too early in the film – the stepfather conflict, which provides what felt like the only conflict at all. For me, I wanted more out of it. And, yes, I quite loved the Before Sunrise/Sunset series, if others have issues there. For me, those films provided tension that this one lacked.

monique

I like Boyhood but I don’t think it’s "brilliant" nor the best film of the year. The problem I have with it is that if you take away the novelty aspect of it and shoot it the same as any other film (in 2 or 3 months) with different kids playing the boy and aging the adult actors then… is it still brilliant and does it deserve to be called the best film of the year? I’d say no. For me, that would be (so far) Nightcrawler.

Kas

I’m thinking "Boyhood" might be the most overrated film I’ve EVER seen. The concept of the film far exceeded its actual execution. It was just a tortuous experience for me. I sat there forcing myself to finish it, forcing myself to forgive its shortcomings, praying for something profound to hit me. I think the film really shows Linklater’s failure to connect with the generation he attempts to portray. He’ll use a pop song or a shot of an iPod or some other cheap reference to suggest a specific moment in time, but his perspective is that of an ignorant adult oversimplifying or completely misinterpreting the internal experience of childhood. Maybe that’s why so many critics identify with the film: because they, like many adults, suffer from the same disillusionment when failing to understand young people today. And why are there so many one-dimensional characters in this film?… This is inexcusable: The lead actor, the sister, the mother, the two alcoholic step fathers, the girlfriends. The most interesting character is by far the dad, played by Ethan Hawke, who is actually a complex human being (like the rest of us) who grows, always trying to guide his son and impart wisdom where he can… even when unqualified. Everyone else is a shadow of a borderline offensive cliche. Why aren’t more critics discussing this? The lead was clearly cast because he was a good-looking kid. There obviously isn’t a single acting bone in his body. He doesn’t even seem interested in… anything. There is a dull, lifelessness in his performance. I can’t help but think Linklater views teenagers as dull, lifeless, emotionless creatures. I give the filmmakers credit for experimenting with their creativity and commiting to the process, but is this really the Best Picture front-runner?… REALLY??? With this script? These performances? Seriously? I am HIGHLY suspicious of the film’s reception.
I may not be able to argue on the ability of the film to connect emotionally, but can anyone name one thing they liked about this film from a technical standpoint??? Cinematography? Acting? Editing?

sakara

i’ll wait till a used dvd is on ebay for a dollar to judge it….though I haven’t found any review in which the movie has classic dialogue or classic scenes….

does already, though, seem like the one millionth movie given praise for its liberal politics, than for anything else…I’m even surprised the movie isn’t about some g ay boy.

Leah Warshawski

Oh – I didn't realize that as a professional film critic you're allowed to decline to review the films you don't like. How are we ever supposed to trust a movie review again if the critics are discouraged from writing dissenting opinions?

Mxxc

The "clumniness" of the mother's relationships is viewed through the lens of her son, who only ever sees snippets of it; that never leaves his perspective. So of course he's not going to see the whole scope of that – what child ever does?

Jose Morales

Jean-Pierre Léaud's character in François Truffaut's films, anyone?

rose wimsatt-reilly

Most children between the ages of 6 and 17 spend a lot of time whining that there's nothing to do, and that everything is so boring. If you spend a little time listening to their parents talk, you find that they're boring, too. This movie is realistic in that it shows all of that, despite its self-conscous attempt at being artistic. But my children and grandchildren do not approach the inconsequential boredom produced by this movie. rose wimsatt-reilly

Marcus

Another person commented that this speaks for the internet, and not necessarily film criticism. Is Boyhood the first film to ever get such a "perfect" score on RT? Of course not. Citizen Kane, Godfather, Rashomon, La Grande illusion and many, many other films have received such high critical uniformity, so why does Boyhood not deserve or even why could that be considered bad? Is it because people are constantly checking RT meters of films to decide whether they should go see a movie or not? You know, it's definitely worthy of such argument to wonder how such praise could be bad for film criticism and for Boyhood, but good movies are simply good and there's no other way around it even through the evolution of media outlets and the methods of how we receive information.

Michael Denvir

I also find the 100 Metacritic rating curious. I liked the movie, but not as much as some other Linklater films, and not as much as I thought I would. I admire him a lot for making this film, and his other projects — they don't hew to the typical movie narrative framework. And they are always sincere.

What I missed in Boyhood was some weight, some meaning — it may have been just me, because others seem to have found a lot of wight in the movie. I think there is much more to chew on and that stays with you in Before Midnight or Dazed and Confused or Waking Life or even Slacker than Boyhood, but all in all, I guess I'm glad Linklater is getting his props.

Cassidy

The tomato meter is a bad way to view criticism. Critics are only given a pass/fail option when posting their reviews – this means that they might give a movie a C+ grade, with plenty criticism towards the film, but given the choice of GOOD or BAD, they have to choose good. I have always thought RT needed to add a "yellow tomato", a middle option, neither good or bad but a meh. That said, I don't think it's a problem for the film that critics are responding positively towards it. If you want to see the dissenting opinions go to the message boards of IMDB, the user reviews on Amazon, or the comments section of any of these positive reviews where the "normal-folk" completely don't understand the movie's accomplishment and can't appreciate a movie without an exploding robot in it. I think critics understood "Boyhood" would be a tough sell in our current HD-ADHD, iPhone-obsessed climate and are not only telling people it's a good movie, but implicitly suggesting that it's better than they're going to think it is.

Bernd Porr

It's not just the relative aesthetic neutrality it is the general problem with many arthouse movies that they strive for super-realism to demonstrate social issues (see social realism). Most arthouse films strive to depict (literally) certain issues in society or life in general. I find this very limiting. Rightfully films like "The Grand Budapest Hotel" or "Under the Skin" are mentioned where film plays with reality/percepsion/etc. In this respect I found Linklaters earlier films like "The waking life" much more interesting.

JR

When a piece of garbage like Transformers gets unanimous critical scorn only to top the box office, I honestly couldn't are less if every critic gets behind a small indie film and calls it a masterpiece. Some valid points here but the actual concern of this article feels incredibly petty given the current state of American cinema.

Vinicius

A Richard Linklater movie doesn't have much of a plot. He has already said that he looks for a movie with an organic, natural conception. With that being said, I don't think it's fair to use this argument as a complaint. Plus, the review sounded a little "hey, let's talk bad about something that is hyped right now". Patricia Arquette's scenes are clumsy? She won't probably win an Oscar but I wouldn't be surprise if she was at least nominated. She was extremely realistic throughout the movie. The only remark I can make on this movie is about Ellar's acting during his first years because he seemed a little unfocused on his scenes. However, he improved later.

J

Regardless how much is going on in the film, there is something to be said about innovation. Yeah, there's not too much going on. But the concept and the execution is something completely new, and in a world where EVERYTHING is basically a rip off of something else, this movie deserves all the praise it is getting, just because it stands on it's own. Also, the comment that the movies audience is "think-alike idolators", is a bit unfair. The guy who wrote the article sounds like the classic "I dis-like things because everyone else likes them" which makes his argument based more on where he wants his social positioning to be, therefore outweighing his opinion to nothing more than "trying to be different" syndrome.

Brad

Bad for the internet maybe.

I'd be a bit more interested in this take if it also registered for movies that get knifed by everyone, where the bandwagon effect is even more obvious and pronounced and effectively buries a movie for a larger segment of people than (perhaps) more than this amount of praise helps one.

delaney

Film critics increase their importance by raving (we're all so very sensitive and so fully engaged in these wonderful endeavors), so it's hardly a surprise that once the bandwagon got going…..

Linklater in particular seems to inspire these enthusiasms (how else account for the hosannas enjoyed by the unwatchable Hawk/Delphy stuff?); evidently because his material is inoffensive, self-important and virtuous in just the right way. He would appear to be very like the critics who write these review — intelligent, comfortable, efficient, unchallenging.

The whole thing recalls "Beasts of the Southern Wild"; amateur filmmaking elevated to a classic of the age by bored critics who were invited to feel virtuous for liking it.

paul wiener

Linklater had a great idea – make a movie over a 12 year period using the same actor(s) to truly illustrate personal change and development. OK, good for him. But an illustration is not a movie. Someday someone may use his idea to make a good movie; I can wait. This one is overlong, innately boring, weighed down by quirky "moments" soft-pedaled as growing pains. The story is built on cliches piled upon one another, haphazardly, at times mysteriously sequenced, using a script that feels like an outline, as if depicting actor Coltrane's photorealistic aging were enough to suggest that "movies are just like life". Transitional scenes are awkward, sometimes barely noticeable (or consequential); the film uses second rate, lazy cinematography and generic scenic design, and the directing itself is gutless, bland and often too weak or too blunt, resulting in uninteresting, easily disposable characters and acting (except for Hawke, Lorelei Linklater and Coltrane, whose skills far exceed Linklater's efforts to translate a screenplay into recognizable activity). Patricia Arquette's abominable acting is often distracting. Her unbelievable character is unlikeable, inconsistent, and just plain too stupid to be forgivable – she's a passive-aggressive, clueless mom who chooses bad husbands to enable her stupidity; she never elicits the sympathy that's written in for her – and that the story hangs on, and it often makes her son seem weak and dumb. Arquette plays the role as if she had just seen the script the day before, and has no clue who she is supposed to be. The soundtrack to the movie is simply awful, as if licensing good music weren't possible, or would remind the viewer that something aural could be more evocative and visceral than Linklater's overly-controlled representational fiddling – perhaps Linklater is tone-deaf. Some scenes seem almost randomly inserted, are not followed through, add nothing to any character, or give the changing of time or place dramatic urgency; some scenes depend on stereotypes, and generate the kind of mild, good-natured form of outrage Americans prefer in place of confrontation or insight. It is mind-boggling to see the raves this film has received, though there's no underestimating the astronomical number of bland, unimaginative, self-satisfied, non-confrontational, dull, uninformed sugar-coated and -addicted Americans who need to be force fed this kind of pablum. Most of them have probably never seen a good American fiction film about real children – for the simple reason that there are none. It's why we see French and Italian and Russian films. This sad truth is one more thing that isolates the USA from almost all developed countries. I guess we never did get much beyond "The Kid." "Boyhood" is one more fake epic, a nostalgic take on the virtues of turning the other cheek on life's unfairness – rear-end first – an ambitious attempt at mimicking reality by boring us with marmalade generalities and giving us enough comfort food to provoke a long, forgetful, well-deserved nap.

MARCELO ARIAS SOUTO

This pointless and lame article, the arbitrary and condescending note by a mediocre critic like Kenneth Turan, the prejudice and pettiness of Armond White (who has inherited the worst trends of Pauline Kael, but almost none of her virtues), and the rest of the articles mentioned here, seem more of a backlash against Boyhood than a serious, critical analysis of it.

Just take a look at Mark Judge and Ms. Cusey's reviews. At one point, Judge writes that the film could have been entitled "I became a teenaged hispter"; that cynical, bad joke, says it all. And Cusey wrote this sentence in her "review" (believe it or not): "I'm a white, conservative mother." What the hell? When I confronted her about that phrase, she recognised that she didn't like Boyhood because it was a "blue-state movie". I guess that the sequence involving the Barack Obama campaign for the 2008 U.S. national election was too much for her; she failed to notice, though, that when Mason's step-grandparents give him a Bible and a shotgun for his birthday, Linklater (a liberal director) doesn't mock them as one might expect from many of his colleagues; on the contrary, he portraits them with respect (Linklater himself has said that this happened to him when he was thirteen years old, describing it as his "redneck Bar Mitzvah").

Kenneth Turan, Sam Adams, and other reviewers should read what Gabe Klinger (the director of Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater) wrote about Boyhood for the Canadian magazine CinemaScope. It's a positive review, but meticulous, and stripped of hyperbole. Probably, the best piece I have read about Linklater's last work, so far. And it's a proof that film criticism is alive.

TOM

Mr. White is a typical liberal of African decent. Why would you feel the need to play the race card? You my "friend" are just an unhappy American.

Simon

This is a really whiny pointless article, denigrating Boyhood for being about, well, what it's about: a beautiful , naturalistic portrait of or a certain sector of family life in America.

lscott

That's two hours of my life I'll never get back. Pure tedium..I couldn't wait to get out of there and couldn't even stay until the end.. Awful.

Steve Barr

Turan is right . Armond White is right . Boyhood is overrated . I only wish we were talking about The Immigrant .

RogerMD

The title says there's unanimous praise and then the first sentence reveals there's not unanimous praise as does the second paragraph. Are you guys hiring?

R.

Fair criticism of near-unanimous praise, but it's just as easy to be misled by anti-hype as hype.

Maybe not critics so much as the educated masses who may or may not want to become critics are guilty of over-deconstruction: just breaking down a film into so many individual pieces until it's unrecognizable and unpalatable, like judging the quality of a gourmet sauce by taste-testing the individual ingredients that go into it. Surely, that's as bad for film criticism as blind, gushing praise.

Ariel S. Compton-Cruce

"Boyhood" is not so much the story of a child growing up, as of a mother struggling to find a place for herself and her children in a male dominated world. Patricia Arquette does a wonderful job –honest, straightforward and memorable.

William

Yeah, someone wrote a poorly written review about a boring "movie-dude" movie. Boyhood is the arthouse film for "movie-dudes" which are basically people who will consume any and all movies from the Avengers to "art house" (in this context, Boyhood), to "guilty-pleasures" (really shitty Avengers style crap, like Iron Man 3, Rise of the Planet of the Apes or Transformers: Beasts) and put films like Last Year at Marienbad carefully into a "homework film" category, because being actually artistic it is inaccessible to the movie dude. He doesn't care for paintings, art is a spectrum from videogames to Boyhood.

In this dichotomy, Boyhood is transcendental, when in reality it is boring. But the hordes of movie-dudes, the modern critic, has eaten the slop of all 3 Pirates of the Carribean movies, every sequel to Madagascar and can't conjure to mind a vague idea of who the painter Francis Bacon is, or Gustav Flaubert's most famous work. He arrives at the shores of something plain, ordinary, boring, but non-demanding, and assumes its art because it bores him. His eyes are bleary. "Oh this boy talks about the Dark Knight." "This boy has no friends." (this was a flaw in the shoe-string budget 12 year design). "This boy plays with the Wii." Que the 2008 top 10 song. The movie dude recognizes the only thing he has come to recognize as a quality of art: relatability. To the movie dude this is easy. Tears come to his eyes.

When Stravinsky released the Rite of Spring in the early 20th century, the ballet was interrupted by art music riots: people were disgusted by the content and others were charmed and turned against each other. Now the opposite is happening and people are criticizing the critics for being bored, being unimpressed. This is the 3rd article that talks about one man who gave it a lukewarm review I've seen on Google.

sir fartsalot

Can Indiewire now do a navel-gazing article about how Indiewire's obsessive focus on niche, identity-politics "movies" that even they admitted don't make any money (see bent's recent lamentation for the non-profitability of "gay" films) is bad for the indie movie business?

And how about a similar examination of the circle-jerk for the execrable "Obvious Child?"

Donna H

I haven't seen Boyhood yet. I am the mother of three sons, ages 27, 25, and 21. Last night my eldest son called my husband and said, "Dad, I just wanted to tell you how much I love you. I say it often, but I want you to know I really mean it." And my husband handed me the phone and my son told me the same thing. He said he had just seen Boyhood and it moved him so deeply that he had to talk to both of us to say thank you.

So what the critics say means nothing to me.

dswynne

It sounds like the author's problem with "Boyhood" is that Mason is what Linklater's opinion of a coming-of-age story of a boy's life, including the philosophizing hipster. It would have been better had Mason had gone through a phase of the worst elements of becoming a man, and then managed to find his balance (via his photography). Maybe that would be more "realistic", IMO.

MARCELO ARIAS SOUTO

In any case, I do agree with Turan's diagnosis. What his piece, this pointless article by Sam Adams, as well as the negative reviews (and also some of the positive ones) about Boyhood reveal is that film criticism isn't at its best form these days. Perhaps the cause of this situation is that global cinema isn't in its best moment, either.

Sam Longoria

This review is not of a movie, but of another review. Not altogether an interesting review-review, either. I'd really like to say it's interesting, but it's um, not. Wait! I'm reviewing a review of a review. Must stop before something terr

Sam Longoria
Producer
Hollywood CA USA
samlongoria dot blogspot dot com

PatrickH

And, for the record, I can confidently say the power of the film rests in its ability to coerce us to consider each moment of the present and the weight we ascribe to it. Not the past moments, but the present moments. Considering that I'm a New Yorker who grew up in Houston, Texas, completed my undergrad education at The University of Texas at Austin, have an older sister, have parents with a less-than-fabulous marriage, and can claim to have stood in the exact same physical locations as Mason did in the film, I think it's pretty powerful when I say that I enjoyed this film for reasons other than the mere recognition of shared past experience.

MARCELO ARIAS SOUTO

I would like to ask to Sam Adams which is the substance of Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel. While I was watching it, I noticed the perfect framing and editing, the symmetrical shots, the painstaking sense for composition, the use of colour, the beautiful settings, and even the absurd and intelligent sense of humour. But when I walked out of the theatre, I felt nothing. There are a lot of characters, and lots of famous faces there. But how many of those are three dimensional characters? Two, two and a half? Unlike his first films (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tennebaums, to a lesser extent), Anderson seems more concerned with production design than with his creatures. He has become some sort of miniaturesque puppeteer. You can almost see the strings.

PatrickH

How about instead of trying to invent a bunch non-aesthetic, more-than-vaguely-insulting reasons for why virtually all film critics have fallen for Boyhood, the dissenters grow a spine and admit that they are in a minority that has nothing to do with the so-called decline of film criticism? I mean, really, let's not make ourselves into false saviors, people. Heck, I disliked the Pixar film, Up, which 99 percent of everyone else liked, but you didn't see me making a big scene about it.

KN

Love this movie. And am over, totally over Indiewire. Every article is so desperate for a click, so self-serving regarding its own opinions and film theories, that it's becoming rather pathetic.
Observe:
-"Praising the deliberately mundane 'Boyhood' fits the pattern unconsciously followed by most culture writers (who also tend to be white males) seeking to confirm their own privilege and importance — but without examining it."
– Cusey's distaste for Mason's "entitlement attitude,"…
-Judge's assumption that a partial freedom from "misogynist conditioning" i
All words so can masterbate and remove yourself from actually embracing and enjoying something so intimate, like nothing we have ever witnessed: Seeing a boy and his family grow in front of our eyes.
And yes, sure at times Boyhood was clumsy…shooting once a year will do that to you. But it can forgiven because you invested in this family and a boy you care for.
But enough of futile essays like this one.
It's not always about you Indiewire.

Meg

Perhaps life is mediocre, clumsy and aesthetically neutral….and this idea is the genius of the film.

To debate that, is to debate the essence of life itself and our own individual journeys. This, I would argue, is exactly what Linklater wanted his audience to do.

Whether or not you find the movie relatable or enjoy the characters, the film invariably forces the viewer to reflect on his or her own life. I can't help but wonder if the negative criticism is simply a projection of a negative or disappointing self-reflection.

The film lends itself to the emotional experience of each individual viewer. That, I would have to say, makes this film a masterpiece.

MARCELO

I really

jack

Correlation does not imply causation. I can a dozen films every year that have not been uniformly positively reviewed that defeat the premise of your critique/theory/whatever. I didn't think the film was perfect either, but I can easily see how the film's narrative structure and the slow progression of the actors encourages the viewer to impose their own life story onto the film, or to relate themselves back to the characters. This empathy for the film and the sense that the film reflects the viewer's own emotional experiences is extremely powerful.

But more importantly I think you're looking for a weak excuse as to why you didn't enjoy the film as much as everyone else. Trying to argue that they're all just falling in line though is weak sauce. If Turan was afraid to stand by his opinion that says a lot more about Turan than it does the state of film criticism.

Andrew Parker

I love Boyhood and was one of the people who felt content calling it a masterpiece after three viewings of it, but while I can understand the hesitation here to anoint anything as such there's a bigger problem here than a consensus that seems to be the result of lazy criticism. Keep in mind that plenty of "respected critics" have also used the term with this one, and the work of Turan (who is a smart writer, normally) belittles the life's work of many because he feels like an outsider.

Yes, a critic should feel lonely when they do their job right. I felt lonely as shit thinking Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was a piece of garbage or thinking that Life Itself was just okay. It happens all the time.

What we need to focus on is a culture that perpetuates a gang mentality; like loving a movie somehow gives a writer ownership over a work of art that they did nothing to create. You can feel every inch of Boyhood and maybe relate to everything that happens in the film word for word. If you want to actually CRITIQUE Boyhood, however, you have to keep that at arms length and understand that there are more things at work than your own emotions (or to then in turn explore why it is you feel those emotions, which I do think is a valid form of criticism in and of itself). The problem that Turan hits upon perfectly is that he's giving in to the equal, but opposite reaction that the people adore the film have given over to: "I love/hate this because (events in my life/personal temperment)."

Was this a conversation that was being had in 1974 with films like The Godfather Part II or The Conversation or Chinatown? Or is this just a side effect of the age we live in? Personally, I think aggregates like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes have ruined us more than a thousand thumbs up/thumbs down appraisals ever could. Criticism has become exactly like the box office: people look only at numbers – grades, stars, percentages – and none of the words. And that's what leads to people feeling left out and marginalized more than anything else. (Well, that and the proliferation of crappy writing out there.)

Yes, we need to always, always, always be wary of a consensus, but it does happen. The problem is that the consensus needs to be cognizant of the fact that they are the consensus.

As for Turan's commentary about a culture of hyperbole, I would respond with a "yes" and a "but." We do live in a world where hyperbole has become so widespread and prevalent that adjectives of any form have lost all meaning. A lot of hyperbole doesn't even come from critics. Much like all art, the choice of wording is subjective. A real writer can use the term masterpiece in a review and make you believe it. From a hack it rings hollow. An average writer would make you question why that term was used. Like almost all criticism, the argument still comes down to semantics.

E. Night

If only Turan actually reviewed the film instead of saying things like how he can't connect to Linklater's self involved characters, when the entire article he wrote is about how he's different and how other people call Boyhood a masterpiece because they want to feel important. If he just made an effort to review the film, instead of talking about himself(ya know, being self involved) he wouldn't get so much negativity.

Every film should be open to criticism, because no film is perfect. But all I hear from the people that don't like the film aren't even actual criticisms of the film itself and instead ramble on about how everyone else seems to like it, which is a shame. I've heard more criticism from the positive reviews though, so that's good.

Christian Toto

Turan's second to last paragraph, the one cited at the very end here, speaks volumes about why we're still talking about a movie that dared to receive a few mediocre reviews.

Bertty

You're totally right. Relying to the main character is bad.

Sam

The fact that Boyhood is even causing these discussions while so many other films are not having anything written about them at all is proof of it's impact.

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