Before I get into this let me again reiterate my affection for Richard Linklater‘s Boyhood. I don’t think it’s quite the masterpiece that others are calling it, but it’s a very warm and humanistic film — deft and assured and wise and quite unusual. You could even call it unique if you want to ignore Francois Truffaut‘s Antoine Doinel films and Michael Apted‘s Up films. I think it will probably end up as a Best Picture nominee if, as I wrote on 8.3, “the Oscar-blogging mafia (less than 15 people when you boil it down) keeps pushing it as Best Picture-worthy over the next five and a half months.” At the end of the year Boyhood may indeed seem like the pick of the litter because it has “that all-encompassing, life-embracing sprawl or theme” that touches people where they live.
But has Boyhood been overhyped, and is this affecting the responses of those who are just getting around to see it? More particularly, did TheWrap‘s Steve Pond lovingly poison the well by stating on 7.31 that it might not just snag a Best Picture nomination but “actually win” the Best Picture Oscar?
A couple of hours ago a smart industry guy, someone I’ve been talking to for years and genuinely respect, called to say that he and two guild-member friends caught Boyhood over the weekend, and they all agree that Pond’s piece about it possibly winning the Best Picture Oscar is out to lunch. The guy doesn’t want to be identified because he doesn’t want to openly diss Linklater. But he insists that Pond overdid the enthusiasm. “Stop Bogarting that doobie, Steve, and pass it along to us,” the guy said. “That’s such a reach. If it turns out to be a really shitty year, I can see it being Best Picture nominated. But winning?”
Here’s a rundown of the guy’s complaints, which again represent not just his view but that of his two buddies (one a SAG member, the other a DGA guy):
Beef #1: The guy feels that Boyhood suffers because he didn’t much care for the kid (especially when he got older) or the less-than-galvanizing performance by Ellar Coltrane. The guy also feels that Linklater focused on the wrong character. Boyhood should have primarily been about Patricia Arquette‘s mom character, which would have made it into a 12-year-spanning John Cassevetes movie in a Woman Under The Influence vein, he says.
Beef #2: Boyhood is basically a very noble and intriguing experiment on Linklater’s part, he feels, but is it really that much different from Francois Truffaut‘s Antoine Doinel films and what Michael Apted did with all those Up films, which of course were docs? In his teenage years the kid (i.e., Coltrane’s Mason) was acting at times like a smarmy little prick, the guy says. Now compare that to the young Antoine Doinel in The 400 Blows, a character whom you have nothing but empathy for. Is that a case of a better actor, or a better written film? He only knows that Boyhood is nowhere near the level of The 400 Blows, certainly in terms of who the kid is and the level of the performance, etc.
Beef #3: Boyhood, he feels, “is a Mike Leigh movie without the Mike Leigh performances,” although he liked Arquette quite a lot and thought Ethan Hawke brought his usual craft and fevered energy to his divorced-dad character, although he found him similar to Hawke’s Before Midnight dad.
Beef #4: The guy didn’t dislike Boyhood but he felt “disappointed” in it, as he felt it’s was over-rated. “The hype around the film is wishful thinking,” he says. “Academy members are going to put their Boyhood screeners in and they’re going to take them out 20 minutes later. You know that the people who like the Stephen Hawking movie, The Theory of Everything, which is right up their alley…you know they’re not going to go for Boyhood that strongly. Not that crowd.”
Beef #5: “I was prepared to be really blown away by it, and I like a lot of Linklater’s movies. It’s certainly fascinating but there’s not enough narrative tension. There’s nothing to cut away to. You’re stuck with that kid. It’s inventive in a certain way, and not by any stretch ‘boring,’ but it’s very leisurely paced. I was very aware of what I was watching, a smart director’s experiment…but there was nothing profound here. You have to do all the work. The movie is a victim of its own creativity, its own scheme. Every time you start to get involved, some other event happens. I don’t hate the kid — I just don’t find him very interesting.”
Pond responds: “I don’t really think there’s much point in me responding in much detail. I liked the movie more than this guy did. I don’t think [the] connections to Truffaut and Apted have much bearing on its Oscar chances (and anyway, Linklater’s Before movies have more in common with the Up series than Boyhood does). And whether he or I think it’s a landmark or an overrated failure is beside the point.
“My contention that it has a chance of actually winning wasn’t based on what I think of it, but on the mass of critical opinion, which will push Oscar voters to see it, and on first-hand accounts from Academy members who have already seen it, particularly at its official AMPAS screening.
“Yes, it’s absolutely a big longshot. If I had to bet, I wouldn’t put money on it winning. But I think it’ll get nominated, and I think that if the stars align and other contenders fall short, it has a chance of winning.
“And if that means I’m smoking something, fine — but that joint had already been passed around by Kris Tapley and Sasha Stone and a few others before it got to me, and I have no idea where it is now so I can’t pass it along to this guy who wants a toke. To be honest, I haven’t gone that route since I spent a couple of days on Willie Nelson‘s bus 18 years ago. If I’m out of my mind in this case, I got there without any outside help.”
Deadline‘s Pete Hammond, who predicted big things for Boyhood on 7.11, responds: “I stand by my 7.11 article which predicted, well before Pond’s piece, that ‘the first sure-fire Best Picture nominee has just arrived.’ Of course a lot has to happen for Boyhood to actually win, but there is no way I would shut down the store on that. It certainly has a chance in that regard. It probably does the film a disservice, though, to put it on that high a pedestal.
“Your friends may be victims of seeing a movie after the critics have anointed it as THE ONE. This is a movie that should simply be discovered on its own. It’s personal. Any Oscar campaign has to emphasize that and not exclusively the critical hype.
“Just last night I was at a party and met a man in his 80s who told me he has been a member of the Academy for 52 years. His tastes seem to run towards what older types of Academy voters tend to like (i.e., The King’s Speech, The Artist, etc). When I asked him, he said without a doubt Boyhood was the Best Picture he’s seen this year and the only one worthy so far of the Best Picture Oscar.”