On Boyhood and Goodness in Film, Art, Etc.

“BOYHOOD IS UNREVIEWABLE, BASICALLY.”

— Film Crit Hulk

Introduction

I hope the delay between the release of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and the release of this piece isn’t too long for any readers. If it seems so, let me offer two quick rebuttals before you dramatically throw this in a fire (or more likely just casually press ⌘-W w/o any visible affectation) in frustration at the insignificance of anything older than about six weeks. First, this seems for obvious reasons like the last movie one should feel impatient about. And second, this isn’t really about Boyhood anyway; it’s really about goodness. Boyhood is just a helpful example in this case because it’s so amazing. Yes, it’s true, I’ve shot my critical wad prematurely by calling Boyhood amazing in my first paragraph. Perhaps this is a film-crit no-no (I wouldn’t be surprised). But then, who’s going to deny that Boyhood is amazing? Like the laws of nature, this isn’t something to be accepted or denied; it simply is. That a director and cast were all able and willing to work on a project for twelve years1 is shocking enough without considering the even more unbelievable fact that this movie got funding. In a world where everyone and their grandma are competing to see who can be the most cynical about both the present and the future of modern American filmmaking, some studio agrees to throw $200,000 at a movie every year for twelve years.2 This may not seem like that long a time to some people, and in certain ways it’s not, but consider the world in 2002. If you can’t remember, we’d all just upgraded to Windows XP, and it was amazing. None of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies had convinced the world that grit automatically equals maturity, and we were all trying to recover from Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin. The Marvel Cinematic Universe™ was little more than a twinkle in Kevin Feige’s eye.3 The entire landscape of American cinema was completely different. Linklater’s biggest “success” at the time was Dazed and Confused, which released nine years earlier and barely made back its own budget. Before Sunset hadn’t even come out yet, and his last movie was a fully rotoscoped animation of an aimless youth walking around and discussing such box office draws as André Bazin’s film theory, existentialism as a philosophy of despair [or not], and posthumanism. Consider, then, funding a relatively obscure art-movie from a barely-remembered director that will be released twelve years from now. It’s madness.  The mere existence of Boyhood is proof positive that crazy things can and still do happen in film, even in this “golden age of television” everyone’s so sure we’re living in now. But is this enough? Even if something is literally awesome, does that make it good? Continue reading


  1. A fun fact is that Boyhood’s working title for some time was 12 Years, which was eventually changed to the current title in deference to Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, which is no doubt a kind and respectful and all around decent thing of Linklater to do for a fellow filmmaker, but I’ve got to say I am somewhat disappointed that we’ve lost out on the potential for someone to accidentally watch one instead of the other (see: 28 Days and 28 Days Later).

  2. “Some studio” in this case being IFC Films, which I think deserves a bit of credit for the gamble. See: Variety

  3. He was at the time probably busy bankrolling such successes as Daredevil, Hulk, Elektra, and perennial favourite Blade: Trinity.