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August 19, 2014

Summer Musings: That one time I was almost in Boyhood

Thinks and memories on the Richard Linklater summer hit that I wasn’t in.

I don’t really remember it that well, because I was seven, but there were interviews and Richard Linklater and callbacks and other stuff. They sat me in a cushy chair, asked me questions about what I liked and disliked, what I did in my day-to-day life, what I thought about. My mom and I were gonna have lunch with Linklater at the attached café at Central Market, a hippie-ass Whole Foods–style joint that Wikipedia describes as a “gourmet grocery store.” I had no idea what I was auditioning for, what I was trying to get myself into. I recall for some reason being more preoccupied with the possible fortune than the possible fame or anything else, which is a tad strange, since I’ve hardly been money-minded since (I know that thing at the bottom says “majoring in economics,” but don’t let that fool you).

But then Richard Linklater called and canceled, they gave the part to a boy I vaguely knew, and my life moved on without consequence. I never really heard about what came of that movie, and over the intervening years I came to alternate between thinking the project had never come to fruition and wondering if maybe the entire experience had never actually happened.

So when I started seeing posts about the film on Facebook first from long-lost acquaintances and then from national news organizations, there was something that wasn’t so much an “aha” moment, but rather a leisurely moving epiphany. “That whole thing did happen; I wasn’t imagining it.” This realization was obviously shortly followed by questions of what could have been.

I thought those questions would finally come together when I actually saw the movie a few weeks ago. But, as you can probably guess from the phrasing of that last sentence, they didn’t. After a morning spent helping my best childhood friend (who actually also auditioned for the part of Mason) and his divorced parents move out of his childhood home, I stole a few hours away to go see Boyhood with my parents. We went to Austin’s favorite (dine-in) movie theater, the Alamo Drafthouse, to enjoy America’s favorite pastime, eating greasy food in front of a huge-ass screen.

As the film rolled, for some reason I expected my viewing of it to be somehow different than everyone else’s; I expected to see not only Ellar Coltrane on the screen, but also flashes of myself, snatched from my seat into the canvas by the sheer power of missed opportunity. But I stayed in one place, realizing how silly that expectation actually was, watching Ellar’s and Mason’s lives unfold before me. I watched as Mason was way cooler than I was in middle school, as Ellar grew the facial hair I couldn’t in high school (or college, or ever), and as Mason drove a way cooler car than I did (yes, a rusty little blue pickup is a cool car in Texas, especially if it says “YO” on the tailgate). I watched the whole movie from my seat, and that was all I did.

And that sounds stupid, because (duh) that was what I went to the theater to do. But I was expecting more, and not just because of my triflingly unique perspective, but because all I’d heard about the movie were raves. I expected to be moved, to find myself in the movie not because I almost was, but because any great movie brings the audience closer to its characters. Instead I found myself simply a bystander, observing someone else’s life.

In the interview clip the Drafthouse showed before the movie started, Linklater described the film as a “collection of lesser moments,” as not the tumultuous and grand roller coaster that life is often depicted as on-screen, but rather the mundane series of events it actually often is. And, to me at least, that’s what was delivered, and that was the problem—Linklater and I fundamentally differ in what we think a movie should be and what it should contain. And obviously there’s a part of me that thinks I should, having made that realization, take what I’ve written of this article, print it out, and shove it up my own ass, since Richard Linklater is a world-renowned filmmaker and I’m just some dumbass posing as a college student. But I’m still a person, entitled to my opinion. I guess. Anyway, what Linklater has created with Boyhood, and indeed with some of his other films like Slacker, is a narrative that skips about from one inconsequential something-or-other to another while staying away from anything that someone might mistake for either slightly too contrived or slightly more profound, depending on whom you ask.

My problem isn’t that Boyhood is poorly done, but that it simply isn’t my cup of (organic, locally grown [we’re in Austin yo]) tea. I don’t go to the theater because I want to see a reproduction of my own or anyone else’s lesser childhood moments; I go because I want to hop about from unforgettable life checkpoint to another. I don’t want to see characters at their baseline or status quo, but at their very worst, toughest times. Whether or not those times actually happen in real life doesn’t really matter to me, because I want to see them on-screen if they do, and I really want to see them on-screen if they don’t. I want to see tears and agony and strife and blood and death and gladiators stabbing each other. I want to see the best of times and the worst of times, because more is more, because America, guns, and capitalism.

But I really do think those moments happen, that sometimes grandeur and importance is captured in something that seems inconsequential. Watching a movie like Little Miss Sunshine or In Bruges reminds me of that, but watching Boyhood didn’t. I found myself left with all of the inconsequential moments that I already had and none of the importance that I didn’t. Boyhood didn’t put lesser moments in perspective; it just repeated them. I wanted them all to mean something, to coalesce into a unified message that was something more than “life happens,” because, well, shit Richard, I already knew that. Boyhood was well crafted and well acted, but it didn’t drive anything home, send any global message. There were side dishes of meaning, of course, like “technology is bad sometimes” and “sometimes Patricia Arquette and people like her marry alcoholics and just kind of have shit luck,” but those nuggets weren’t enough to satisfy my appetite.

I walked out of the movie and returned to helping my friend move, now into his mother’s and father’s new homes. It was an experience and a day that I’d thought would be a cacophony of nostalgia. But, like any other day, it just kind of happened, moment by moment, each one as inconsequential as the last.

Liam Leddy is a third-year in the College majoring in economics. Summer Musings is a Viewpoints blog that publishes on Tuesdays and Fridays through September 26.

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