Hollywood’s continual struggles with its ‘global blockbuster’ model of filmmaking have been well-documented: movies have become $500MM commercials for Samsung, stories must not offend anyone who has ever lived, stars must only be those worthy of outlining their dietary habits to People or US Weekly.
Then, out of the blue, the movie Boyhood comes along. With less than $600 a day in budget, Richard Linklater and team produced cinematic nostalgia of such a potent variety that I almost welled up at a kitchen rendition of “Oops! I Did It Again.” Ultimately, what Boyhood does is dazzle its audiences with the most quiet, sophisticated, and gut-ripping special effect of them all: time.
Boyhood’s confident and massively sophisticated utilization of time -- 12 years, to be exact -- ultimately creates contemporary umami of filmmaking. The movie is delicious in part because it blends 3 film styles we’ve gravitated to:
1. Reality TV:
Ask a Kardashian, humans love the process of watching other humans age, with all its barely perceptible nuances. Getting older aside, there’s the satisfaction of watching people on the big screen wrestle with the same cultural and technological challenges we all faced, or face: what’s the new Nintendo? Should I delete my Facebook?
2. Netflix-style long-form programming:
We love long-form programming because it can circumnavigate all traditional, overly familiar TV and movie tropes. With long-form, Save The Cat! no longer dictates the plot -- the protagonist no longer needs to be introduced by minute two in order for the story to function.
3. Old-school, high-value production:
Because reality, without proper guardrails, encounters brilliance too infrequently: Boyhood’s production is so thoughtful, so love-drenched and yet so precise that it’s dazzled reviewers beyond what even they can explain.
Linklater experimented with all kinds of new filmmaking ideas in Boyhood, and one of the most potent is watching latent artistic talents take shape. We see a kid want a camera, and then take a picture, and eventually take a great picture. We hear a man sing an inappropriate song to his children, and then an appropriate song, and then a great song. This kind of trick-of-hand simultaneously brings more story and more of the actor into the film.
One of the most engrossing moments involves all of the characters performing a song together as Ethan Hawke strums his guitar, and we’re drawn in not just because the song is great, but because we have seen these characters attempt musical performances before, over the years. We’re invested in their talent as much as we are their well-being.
Blissfully, Hawke’s performance seems to guarantee that the types of actors who will flourish in these films will be gloriously different than the rubber-suited, Pepsi-guzzling action heroes of today. Take Matthew Broderick, who can not only act, but sing, dance, tell a joke, play a mad game of ping pong: such multi-faceted talent would help make a story evergreen, surprises always around the bend.
What we have witnessed in Boyhood is not just a clever concept for a summer movie, but the invention of an entirely new genre of art. I’m sure Tisch students are already picking up their cameras, filming their four year retrospectives. What’s the next iteration to come? Will we check in with our favorite stars every two years or so, to get the latest installment of their serial film? Just as hopping between Broadway, TV, and movies is routine for today’s actors, will tomorrow’s also have a ‘lifer’ in the works, as well? The structure is far too compelling to see once and ignore. Not to mention that from an artist’s point of view, the model makes some financial sense. (It’s steady work parsed out over time.)
This, I predict, is the year that major stars start quietly signing up for Boyhood-like projects. Netflix, I’m sure, has already taken note: almost nobody’s been sharper and foretelling what the public will crave from their television screens than Reed Hastings.
Forget binge-watching, the trend’s jumped the shark if FOX has figured it out. The future of the binge watching is life-watching.