Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Boyhood: Delightfully Brilliant, yet Riddled with Stereotypes...

... or should I say brilliantly delightful? And... are some of the stereotypes slightly mysoginistic?
I don't know, but I wonder...

Well, after a summer of constantly wishing to watch movies, but not having time, I finally got to see Boyhood last Sunday with my husband in the small local theater!

(this viewing was preceded by a Richard Linklater "Before" movies marathon the weekend/week before, but I'll blog about that later! Can't wait!)

First of all, Boyhood, filmed over twelve years, is a groundbreaking film-making experiment/experience. It is incredible to see the characters age, particularly Ellar Coltrane, the boy, and his sister, played by Linklater's daughter Lorelei. Trailer:

Apart from Rebecca Woolf's commentary on the movie (and her previous post), I avoided reading reviews or criticism of the movie online, but I knew not to have too high expectations, so I wasn't disappointed.

The film is pretty moving and funny and I loved how (and I'd read about that ahead of time) Linklater chose to use music from the different years the action was taking place. I particularly loved the opening scene with Coldplay's Yellow!

I think -- although I haven't grown up in this country, so I wouldn't be able to really evaluate that! -- the movie accurately portrays American families (particularly with divorced parents) and the way American kids are raised. I loved that I have family in Texas and that I'd already been to most of the locations and I could recognize the landscape, which is very similar to where my sister-in-law's family lives. The NYT had an article about this in July, titled "Texas Gets Love Letter in 'Boyhood.'"

I was looking at my students today and thinking that I better understand their elementary/high school experience and their worldview after watching this movie (I felt that way particularly when I was looking at one of my female students who has lots of earrings in one of her ears, kind of quirky like boyhood's Mason) -- Brazilian kids' upbringing seems to me to be so different (of course in my generation, I haven't lived in Brazil and taught kids there for the past 18 years, but I still think it's different).

I liked the movie, but I think it's very hard to give it much depth and really develop the characters when you're filming over a twelve year span and that is the film's weakness. Filming like that is also very conducive to reducing the characters' lives to countless stereotypes. The single-mom who keeps finding abusive partners, the misfit high-school kid, the way boys/men see women.

I don't know... maybe I'm being too picky and academic here in being annoyed with the stereotypes and the way women/girls are portrayed. The sister seems to fade away so much towards the end of the movie, since the focus has to be on the boy(hood) of her brother.

And maybe my viewing was colored by this having read this tweet by Joyce Carol Oates:
(tweet was looking great, but then it became text only when I deleted a comment I had here before, I hope it works again! YAY, it is working!)

In any case, women, particularly the mother, seem to be viewed as victims of men (maybe that's a good thing? To show how women can be strong and overcome abuse?) and since it's a movie about a boy growing up, we also have stereotypes of the way young men see women. I like the girlfriend and what happens seems realistic, but I don't know if I like the girl at the end.

I don't really know exactly what/how I feel, but as a girl/woman, I wish there was another movie like Joyce wrote. Sometimes this whole being-a-feminist-thing and seeking gender equality is exhausting to me... I wish I could just move on, but it's not possible, not with depressing statistics about the gender gap (particularly one I can't find now about how mothers make even less money than other women). The fight has to continue... sigh... and the awareness of gender stereotyping really did take some of the "magic" from this movie for me.

Last, but not least, I kept wondering if his mom wasn't just an adjunct and probably not really a tenure-track professor (like her second husband -- what a piece of work! And then they also totally make fun of this crazy supposed UT Austin professor who talks to himself in a diner, yikes!). She obviously seems to have a full-time position, but she's also pretty broke (and she clearly only got a master's degree not a doctorate). Well... it doesn't matter, but that part really resonated with me (obviously!).

Overall, I really enjoyed the movie and I loved Ethan Hawke, though I prefer him in the Before trilogy much more. Ellar Coltrane was superb, I want to read the interviews and articles about him and also view Q&A's with him and Linklater that are available on YouTube. I liked Lorelei Linklater's performance a lot and Patricia Arquette was OK as the mom. Now I can go read some reviews and I may come back to edit this with some links to my favorites (or not!).

I'm glad I finally got to do something I'd been really looking forward to! We do make it a point not too watch too many (if any!) movies, but this was one I wanted to see very badly. Hopefully this post doesn't have too many spoilers for you if you still haven't seen it!

P.S. As a mom of two boys I also got to think about my sons and my mothering of them, but they're still too young for me to identify with the teenage years that were a large part of the movie. In addition, their upbringing is/will be just very different from the boy in this film. Oh, and I thought that including stereotypical views of religious people was fine, almost funny. And the guns in a Texas ranch detail. I just thought that the dad's marriage came out of the blue and was left completely unexplained... but the movie wasn't about him. The mother is always closer to the boy, so she's portrayed in more depth.

1 comment:

Sandra Why said...

Hi Lilian! I saw the movie at the beginning of the summer, before I had much chance to hear anything about it, fortunately. I loved watching all the characters age on the screen, the adults as well as the children. I LOVED Patricia Arquette and found her very convincing and warm as the mother. Ethan Hawke did not feel as natural to me somehow, esp as he got older and became more and more the perfect father. Found him more believable and interesting early in the film, when he seemed less goody-goody. The kids, I thought, were fantastic and not too scripted.

I only saw one of those films from the Linklater trilogy with Ethan Hawke, and couldn't stop rolling my eyes through the whole thing. I guess I saw the middle one, where the couple meets again but they're both married. So talky and self-indulgent, I thought, too cute. I didn't like it at all and never bothered to watch the others.

About stereotyping in Boyhood, it didn't quite strike me that way. The mother kept making the same mistake in choosing men, and that does happen--people (not just women) think they know their "type" and will keep choosing the wrong partner. I like that Arquette's character wasn't perfect and made some big mistakes, yet she was still a good parent.

The most glaringly false note in the film, I thought, was when the Patricia Arquette character advises the home-repair laborer to go back to school, and then years later he shows up to thank her for saying that. The movie could have done without that White Savior moment, I thought. It just seemed tacked on and stereotypical and cringingly unnecessay.

As the mother of an 18-year-old boy I liked watching Mason grow up. Dropped my boy-man-child off at his dorm just a few weeks after seeing the movie, quite an experience.