How to Fix: Boyhood

True, it’s up for several Academy Awards. And yes, it’s an ambitious project, to film a single set of actors each year for twelve years and splice the scenes together into a growing-up story.

Except that it’s a boring movie. We spend three hours watching short scenes that for the most part have no drama, no conflict, no plot at all. On top of that, the two main characters we see through most scenes – the kid and his sister – are both incredibly boring. Neither of them seems to care about anything, greeting most of their parent’s concern and anger with a shrug. 

The movie seems designed to coast by on its premise alone. And, seeing as it’s gotten several Academy Award nominations, that seems to have worked for it.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen child actors grow up before (Harry Potter, anyone?) and I’ve seen shaggy, low-plot stories done well before (Dazed and Confused, remarkably from the same director as Boyhood). So neither of Boyhood’s gimmicks are enough for me.

Fixing it is simple: make it interesting. Keep the actors, keep the concept, keep the low-plot nature of things. But make each scene (or set of scenes) picked from a time period be some conflict, something dramatic that seems very important to the boy (and therefore us) at the time. This will get us involved in the kid’s life, show them as actually giving a damn about something, and draw us in to the movie.

You don’t have to tie each of the conflicts together. You don’t even have to make them about the big, cliché events (first kiss, first date, etc). So you can keep the shaggy-dog nature of the story, just showing a kid growing up, but by picking out conflicts involving things the kid cares about, you draw the audience in. They care, because the kid cares.

Over multiple segments, this structure would drive home the concept of the passage of time, and how much we change without realizing it growing up. Mason’s boyhood concerns and conflicts would fade and eventually be forgotten, replaced with new cares and concerns.

Perhaps one or two would survive into young adulthood – a childhood wish to be an astronaut surving as a hobby of stargazing – to give us some continuity, but the rest of the movie can be about the changes we go through, the many different skins we shed on the way to adulthood. That would certainly hold my attention over three hours, and fufill the potential of Boyhood’s premise.