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With Respect, a Counter to Kenneth Turan’s Boyhood Dissent

Kenneth Turan writes what I think is a fair dissent of the uniform critical opinion of Boyhood. And indeed, had he written his review, and had it gone on Metacritic, Boyhood’s score would not be a perfect 100 as it is now. Turan didn’t want to be the one bad apple who spoiled the whole bunch. Why would he want to dump on a movie before it had a chance to show in theaters? It is admirable, I think, that he held his tongue in light of such an ambitious project, such a hard thing to pull off, and an even harder sell to audiences. The big picture is that Hollywood needs more films like Boyhood and less like the kind its making now.

In Turan’s dissent, he admits that it might just be him:

For one thing, I find that as I get older and younger filmmakers focus more and more on their own young years, I have become increasingly resistant to coming-of-age stories, which at its core is what “Boyhood” is. Living through my own childhood was unnerving enough; I don’t take pleasure in living through someone else’s unless there is as good a reason as two personal favorites, Ken Loach’s “Kes” and Jean-Claude Lauzon’s “Léolo,” provided.

And that, in the end, he might just not like Linklater’s work overall:

Finally — and this is critical — I have always been cool to Linklater’s films, have never connected emotionally to his self-involved characters and a slacker aesthetic that treats banalities as if they were words of wisdom. Though “Boyhood” could be his best film and certainly has its satisfying moments, its narrative feels fatally cobbled together, veering haphazardly from underdone moments to overdone melodramatic contrivance.

On one hand, the fuss about “Boyhood” emphasized to me how much we live in a culture of hyperbole, how much we yearn to anoint films and call them masterpieces, perhaps to make our own critical lives feel more significant because it allows us to lay claim to having experienced something grand and meaningful.

And finally, he admits what very few are ever able to, and why guys like Turan are so valuable to the overall discussion of film:

Ultimately, however, what thinking about “Boyhood” brought home, and not for the first time, is how intensely personal a profession criticism is. Whether we like it or not, even if expressing it makes us feel clueless and out of touch in our own eyes as well as the world’s, we cannot escape who we are and what does or does not move us. As I’ve said before and likely will have cause to say again, in the final analysis, as a critic either you’re a gang of one or you’re nothing at all.

There is not enough humility in film criticism anymore. Too many critics today pronounce films as great or terrible and if you go against that proclamation there is something wrong with you.

Films contain doors that either open or stay closed for anyone seeing them. For me, the door to Boyhood opened with the mother watching her own children grow up and how that catches up to her in the final scene between mom and son, mom and ex-husband, mom and self. I know that since the majority of writers about film are men and since that generation seems to have difficulty letting go of their childhoods (hence the continual worshipping of things that should have been long left behind) their way into Boyhood was by relating to the boy. The only way I related to the boy was in watching him grow up and how precarious that view can feel as a parent. I just watched my own daughter grow up — she is now 16. So much can go wrong. They figure out who they are and it is rarely whom you think they are going to be. You worry constantly that they’ll be okay. This movie dug into that.

Finally, I DO relate to and love Richard Linklater’s films. I take a bath in the Before movies just to listen to the two smart characters talk on and on about things. For me, that is far more interesting and entertaining that the supposed “tight” structure of most films. I appreciate that someone out there still values the art of curiosity, observation and conversation. For me, that is what Linklater’s films have been to me.

I cried at many different points throughout Boyhood. It changed the way I look at the world. How much more powerful can a film get? There will be a temptation, as with all things, to generate backlash against something so good. It happened last year with 12 Years a Slave. All of its rave reviews amounted to an Oscar prediction to win Best Picture and an ultimate chafing from the major critics groups. The year before it was Zero Dark Thirty. If a film that is highly praised sits out in the sun long enough people start to think “it’s good but it’s not THAT GOOD.” That is human nature as observed by me, someone who’s watched this dynamic play out for years.

This is how Argo won. This is how The King’s Speech won. Fly under the radar, don’t make yourself a target for backlash – that is how it’s done in the Oscar race. And that rule is in place ONLY because human beings are funny. They like to be distinctive. They don’t want to be one of the herd. Film watching and observing is often like the Emperor’s New Clothes for many. Even if they don’t get the movie at all if the “cool club” liked the movie, they will like it. If the “cool club” doesn’t, they won’t. It takes guts to do as Turan is doing here, offer up a reasoned dissent in the face of uniform love.

Film criticism IS personal. It isn’t like writing a review of a new car you just bought or a hotel room you stayed in. There isn’t some agreed upon structure we’re supposed to think is “right.” Film is art and art is subjective. If a film like this did not offer YOU up any doors you will never find a way in. For me, with Boyhood, those doors flew open.