I feel very generous. I’ve just donated three hours of my life to one of the most vain films I’ve ever encountered.
It sounds good in theory: make a film about adolescence and use the same actor throughout, but film it over twelve years so that the physical changes are naturalistic. In reality, it just doesn’t cut it. And not just because it’s too long.
When Richard Linklater appeared on the screen at the beginning and said hello to the cinema chain we had just entered and told us the name of the film we had just bought tickets for, I thought it was just a little marketing stunt. It wasn’t until halfway through I realised that this film is not a story but an exercise for its creator.
The problem is there’s no point to the film. It’s a fiction, but it’s so confused about what it’s about that it’s not really about anything. There are a series of events, some fortunate and some less so. The adolescent journey is depicted naturalistically from the boy’s transition from childhood into adolescence to his transition from adolescence into adulthood, but there is little to tie this story together as a coherent story. It just goes from one episode to another, often skipping over major events in the plot.
Judging by the title, the film should be about the boy. For the most part it follows the awareness of the boy, but occasionally it diverts from that rule. It spends more energy, I think, on his parents, and the theme of parenting, but then it loses this plot thread by the end because it goes back to the boy from the title.
The thing is, as much as I was bored most of the time I spent watching, the characters are still engaging. I’d prefer it if I could just dismiss it as a boring film, but it’s not boring; I wanted to know what happens, because the characters, particularly Ethan Hawke as the father and Patricia Arquette as the mother, are absolutely fascinating. The boy, played by Ellar Coltrane, was likewise completely enthralling.
It’s just that nothing much happens, and it takes three hours for this nothing much to happen to these fantastic characters.
I think this one got bitten by the novelty bug, and instead of a story it became a mere exercise in film making.