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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.

33 Comments on this Post

  1. Bryce Forestieri

    “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.”

    He should have. Films that are unanimously loved by humanity don’t exist. Who is it going to hurt if one critic fucks those precious RT/MC scores, and whoever the fuck is precious about such things should get a life. In fact if they don’t go ahead and count his review they are only further demonstrating their worthlessness. But yeah, his review pretty much is horseshit.

    Hey, Turan, your pal? –> http://www.reelfilm.com/nashvill.htm

  2. I read Turan’s full piece (http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-ca-boyhood-on-film-turan-20140803-story.html) and it seemed to me that he was constantly apologizing for being lukewarm on the movie more than anything else. That’s fine, but he shouldn’t have to. He should feel free to post his opinion for everyone else to read. That being said, it’s nice to see that he does indeed have a sense of humility.

  3. How does Boyhood have a 100 on Metacritic? There are scores of less than 100, including a 75 and several 90s. Why wouldn’t he put his review up? Right now the film should be at 99; no film is a 100 lol. Bad news for the Oscar derby…everyone is going to be aiming for this one to take it down.

  4. I’m not really sure what to make of it. He wants to be honest, which he is, but he’s apologetic, like m1 has pointed out. I feel bad for Kenneth that he had to write a review in which he’s the only one who doesn’t LOVE what he’s reviewing. I think we should at least thank him for having the guts to go against the grain.

    Having still not seen it, I can’t give an opinion of Turan’s opinion based on my own feelings or thoughts on the movie, but I’m glad there are still some critics who take their job seriously. (This is in no way a comment about you Sasha or Ryan).

  5. SallyinChicago

    Boyhood: I don’t want to see it.

  6. Steve50

    Critics should never apologize or be timid – I’m surprised that Turan was as apologetic as he was. Perhaps he just didn’t want to spoil the Metacritic party or was afraid he’d take a battering like Stephanie Zacharek of the Village Voice did when she didn’t orgasm over GotG.

    Either way, we’ve created a monster – critics must remain critical; otherwise they’re no better than tweeting promoter/detractors.

  7. 1) He said the movie was “just OK”, so he didn’t really exhibit too severe of a dissent here.

    2) That piece is not a review, so it should not be counted towards MC or RT. If that was a review it was one of the worst I’ve ever read. It goes into exactly NO detail about his issues with the film.

    3) SallyInChicago, SEE IT. Who are you helping by ignoring it? At the very least, go see what all the fuss is about. If Patricia Arquette’s performance doesn’t hook you, I don’t know what to tell you, but don’t just bypass a film like this. You love movies! I know cause I see you on here all the time! Don’t miss this one. If you don’t like it, what’s the harm?

  8. Why should he have to apologize for not liking the movie? Or not liking it as much as everyone else? He should have just done his review and had it counted like everyone else’s. Isn’t that his job, to give an honest review of what he thinks? Instead he holds back until now because he didn’t want to say something that’s not in line with everybody else. Geez. That’s messed up. He should have just been honest from the start. I’m sure he has readers who wanted to know what he thought. Who cares what other people say, anyway?

  9. Arquette was fantastic and her shattering scene at the end in a way explained what I initially thought was a poorly handled plot point with the second alcoholic husband.

    What I loved about the movie was that for all the crap Linklater gets for his slacker aesthetic, he writes characters that talk the way actual people talk. And he consistently gets incredibly naturalistic performances from the actors reciting his words. It’s not that easy to get that, and he really doesn’t get the credit he deserves.

    To contrast, they showed the Unbreakable trailer beforehand, and every nanosecond of it was so obviously calculated Oscar bait that it was glaring compared to the movie that followed.

    Will be an interesting Best Director race this year.

  10. edkargir

    I have seen Boyhood twice and I thing it is a masterpiece but anyone who sees a lot of movies is going to have a minority opinion. I did not like the the Tree of Life or Pans Labarith I love Babel which was not liked on this sight so if Mr Turan did not like Boyhood it is ok for him to say so.

  11. Bryce Forestieri

    “Why should he have to apologize for not liking the movie? Or not liking it as much as everyone else? He should have just done his review and had it counted like everyone else’s. Isn’t that his job, to give an honest review of what he thinks?”

    Exactly.

    “if that was a review it was one of the worst I’ve ever read. It goes into exactly NO detail about his issues with the film.”

    But he kind of does at some point, but you’re right it’s bad, I felt really uncomfortable reading this thing as in I’d rather listen to a recording of Bane’s out loud readings of Dana Stevens’ review of TO THE WONDER or O’Hehir’s THE COUNSELOR

    <>

  12. Bryce Forestieri

    < >

  13. Bryce Forestieri

    >>Now this is *not* a review, but I’m just gonna kind of talk about BOYHOOD, and just wanted to drop by and say that I didn’t really like it, and I didn’t say anything before because everyone was liking it so much, and having so much fun, and nobody called me, and I felt very weird? — so I wrote this bizarro but so very sweet rant, in fact, the sweetest possible rant, so please, don’t be mad? And I’m so very lonely. I am alive.<<

  14. Fair enough. Turan doesn’t like Linklater, doesn’t like coming of age stories and doesn’t care for Boyhood.

    Personally, I hate boxing movies. I hate stranded in a lifeboat at sea movies and damn if there isn’t both In the Heart of the Sea and Unbroken coming up. I feel parched and seasick already at the thought. I’ve only just recuperated from All is Lost and Life of Pi.

    Well thank God there are no boxing movies (I think) coming out and thank God there is at least one movie I can passionately love this year. That’s Boyhood.

  15. JPNS Viewer

    I’ve just returned from the link provided by one of the readers.

    While I generally admire it when people are being considerate to others, Turan, however, in this case should have simply made it easier […], written a real piece and wholly reviewed the film, telling it like it is, instead of at length having gone about what seemed to be his self-doubt of sort, as well as having kept being apologetic in process, etc.

    Some of our AD readers’ non-commissioned comments re other films (in certain cases), spotted here from time to time, as well as for good measure some of former EW critics Owen and Lisa’s capsule reviews, which were much more concise, were even more agreeable to read in terms of serving their reasons-of-being regardless of how a reader agrees or not, and more so a la point, thus serving the purpose in giving the readers in general what to expect from a given film being reviewed, so that, with other elements, they could decide as to what to do with their hard-earned money . . . .

    Turan, on the other hand, as some have already pointed out, basically had kept being unnecessarily (#in this case) apologetic, all the more with such several walls of text being wasted along the way.

  16. ‘That piece is not a review, so it should not be counted towards MC or RT.’

    Correct. It’s not in the same format as the LA Times’ reviews.

    ‘Why would he want to dump on a movie before it had a chance to show in theaters?’

    Because he’s a writer. There’s no valid argument for only posting positive write-ups about films prior to release. Critics ought to be sincere and forthcoming.

    ‘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 we’re done #truth

  17. Philipp

    So Mr. Turan didn’t like it. Why does he make a fuss about it himself?

  18. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    Why does he make a fuss about it himself?

    hashtag WeAreTheStory

  19. I can understand both the pro-Turan and anti-Turan arguments here.

    On the one hand, he is obviously free to like or dislike whatever movies he pleases. Even if a film is being praised across the board and there might be some minor peer pressure to go with the flow, Turan is open about the fact that he just didn’t really care for the film and (as he admits) it might just be his own dislike for Linklater’s style or for the well-worn subject matter that cooled him about Boyhood. This is completely understandable — we all have a few classic films or classic directors that we just either never liked, thought were overrated or just openly disliked and are agog that the majority seems to idolize them.

    On the other hand, I dunno, I thought Boyhood was a pretty tremendous movie, as are most of Linklater’s films. The power of the dialogue in this movie is that, as others have noted, its “slacker” nature adds to the realism. Turan dislikes the shaky narrative but really, the plot was bound to be shaky given the very nature of the film’s production — Linklater didn’t write the script in full 13 years ago, he wrote each set of vignettes as the years went by. The easy rebuttal to Turan is that the film’s whole message is that life itself is shaky and doesn’t fit comfortably into any sort of prescribed narrative.

    Finally, a thought on Sasha’s paragraph about the critic group backlash….she herself infamously called Argo ‘a perfect movie,’ only to backtrack and start criticizing the film when it became clear that it was going to beat her preferred choices for Best Picture. I’m not blaming for this since we ALL do it on websites of this very nature, when we’re all trying to give our two cents about what the “real” Best Picture(s) of any given year are. That’s the nature of the Oscar beast when there can be only a single winner. It’s like Roger Ebert’s old criticism of star ratings; we’re all giving the proverbial five stars to a number of movies every year, but since only one of those five-star films can be the “Best Picture,” we need to find ways to explain why our chosen movie is that much better or (as is easier) nitpicking reasons why other movies are a bit worse.

  20. As I tweeted, his Pulp Fiction dislike was worrying…

  21. Loved Boyhood and enjoyed Turan’s apologetic which says more about him as a critic than of the film. Can’t wait for a Girlhood – anyone?

  22. Carlie o

    What is this? The comment of a juvenile or of a feminist who has the intellectual depth of meniscus? Guess I shouldn’t respond to a simple declarative. Must be a child. Say no more.

  23. Carlie o

    This was not a movie. It was a painting with multilayered scenes. My only caveat is that the titled doesn’t appropriately describe the whole package. I don’t think it was about the boy alone. It was about…..everything. the whole family. I have to admit there was a point when I felt that the plot was going to take a grim path and the boy was going to take the gun and….we’ve all lived through the stories, Columbine et al. Glad it didn’t. But I felt it could and it has.

  24. How is it worrying? What sort of culture would we have if everyone agreed on every element of its output? I, too, am not a fan of Pulp Fiction. Doesn’t worry me!

  25. To be fair, Argo came out months before Lincoln so up to that point Sasha may have felt Argo was the film to beat. I do remember her calling it a perfect film but I can’t remember if she called it the years best. Sometimes a perfect film isn’t the years best, it’s a perfect film for what it is. I feel Crank is a perfect film for what it is, same goes for Moon, Fast Five and Narc. Now one of them, maybe two, are real guilty pleasures but for what they are, for what they wanted to be they are as good as they can be.

    That said I agree there is always backlash when a movie that was once loved turns into the movie everyone loves to bash on because it won the awards over other favorites. Happened with Argo, The King’s Speech, The Artist. I’ve heard those movies are of “pedestrian” quality. They’re all great movies but, yeah, when put alongside ZD30 and The Social Network it’s easy to see why the hate ensued.

  26. For a while the title was “12 Years”. They had to change it for obvious reasons.

  27. You’re new here aren’t you?

  28. Keil S.

    I actually averaged the Metacritic scores for Boyhood recently and the result was 97, suggesting either laziness on the part of the website or some unknown policy of dropping a certain number of outliers before publishing an average.

  29. Metacritic uses a weighted average instead of a “traditional” one. That’s why its score is 100.

  30. Richard B

    After reading a piece over at Indiewire, I take the position that this article is extraneous. Given the overwhelming love for the movie, one article criticizing should be welcome more than anything. Having said that, Turan’s decision not to review the film was really spineless.

  31. Bob Burns

    If critics and bloggers would only own up to the difference between opinion and fact….. or stop stating opinions as facts.

    Pigs flyin and all that.

  32. Daveylow

    I have no trouble in posting a dissenting review at all. But if Turan admits he doesn’t like the director’s work I really wouldn’t know what to make of his review. He’s not inclined to like the movie or maybe even get it.

  1. […] measure as a totem of a award-worthiness, was changed to respectfully though superfluously counter Turan’s dissent, lest a smallest disastrous view about “Boyhood” take […]

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