Richard Linklater is one of the most overrated directors working today. He’s done a bunch of okay movies that get praised more than they deserve. That list includes Dazed and Confused, Bernie, Me and Orson Welles, A Scanner Darkly, Fast Food Nation, Bad News Bears (the remake), School of Rock, The Newton Boys, SubUrbia, and the Before Sunrise trilogy.
Now he writers/directs a gimmick movie that every critic has given their highest review and many have proclaimed it the best movie of the year.
It took 12 years to film and we watch the cast age. The boy was 7-years-old when they started and 18 when it ended. Now, the Up series has followed a variety of children in England every 7 years, but this is a fictional story. Part of the problem is that we expect a bit more of a script from a fictional story. In real life if a bully called another kid a name in the bathroom, that’s a big deal. In a movie, we’re waiting for a resolution that never comes. Sure, you could argue that’s real life. Somebody calls you a name and it never really escalates. Just kids finding out their pecking order on the playground or bathroom at school. At times, that’s refreshing. It made the whole picture seem more realistic. Yet when Seinfeld claims it’s a “show about nothing,” they had jokes to pepper up the script. If the movie is about nothing but a boys experience growing up – it should be a more interesting experience and not one that meanders. That doesn’t mean you’ll be bored, but you will leave after the anticlimactic ending wondering if it really needed to be three hours long.
Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is a great young actor, but as interesting as it is to see him age before our eyes, it could’ve easily been done with a variety of actors and/or make-up. And as I write this I realize – Ethan Hawke sort of did this before with Linklater. The Before Sunrise films were about every 10 years with these characters. It is amazing to think that this entire cast got together two weeks every year to get these scenes down.
The rest of the cast consists of Linklater’s real daughter Lorelei playing the older sister, and Patricia Arquette as the mom. It wasn’t one of her better performances, and Hawke played his usual character. He was the absentee dad who tries to do the right thing, but isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. He would rather listen to Foghat in his muscle car and hang with his guitarist roommate. Yet in one of the many things the movie does right, we see not only the boy grow, but the dad as well.
I’m always interested in the soundtracks the movies provide us, and I have mixed feelings about this one. While I love hearing songs from Gotye, Coldplay, Cat Power, The Hives, Gnarls Barkley, Vampire Weekend, Wilco, and The Black Keys – it felt a bit forced. As if the characters were listening to these songs to show us the time period, unlike say – The Perks of Being a Wallflower using Bowie’s Heroes.
In an interesting scene where Hawke gives his boy a Beatles compilation CD that has only the solo material – they go into The Wings song Band on the Run. That track was used so much better in Outside Providence, and surely a more obscure solo Beatles track would’ve been more refreshing and interesting than something we hear on classic rock radio everyday.
One odd thing was how Mason experienced so many things in such a minimal fashion. No overwhelming sadness or joy. A few times he came off as a punk kid that had this entitlement, and a bit of attitude that made him hard to like. I would’ve preferred a few big moments in his life as oppose to a series of mundane ones.
For every few good scenes, there’d be a disappointing one. One of those disappointments is when a stepdad turns out to be an abusive alcoholic. As somebody that had an alcoholic stepfather, I should’ve been moved by this. Instead, it became melodramatic and a tad cartoonish. It didn’t fit with the vibe the rest of the film had.
There was a scene in which a photography teacher talks with Mason in the dark room. He gives him some tough love, and it was brilliant writing.
Another scene that could’ve been a great moment, was sunk by poor writing. A gardener the mother talks to at one point, predictably shows up later to say how much his life has improved after her pep talk about him going to college. He tells the kids at a restaurant, “Your mother is a smart woman. You should listen to her.”
Instead of lecturing the kids in a way that didn’t seem genuine, why not just have him thank her while talking about his accomplishments? It would’ve served the same purpose and worked better.
It’s enjoyable to watch the way the movie does some moments from the boys life that aren’t over the top; the way he stumbles in high and talks with his mother; the way his first serious relationship develops.
It was great watching Hawke’s character become a decent father, but I found myself frustrated with Arquette. She may be hard-working and providing for her kids, but with her choice of horrible men is hard to figure out. You can give her a pass on the first husband, as we assume they were young and dumb. Yet when she continues down the path of bad choices in her love life, you wonder how smart she really is.
When it’s all said and done, I predict critics will praise the movie and audiences will be disappointed (as I’m writing this, it’s getting 100% good reviews on Rotten Tomatoes).
It really needed more of a plot, and it should’ve moved me. It did hold my interest and is such an interesting way to make a movie (despite how gimmicky it is)…It gets 3 stars out of 5.