BOYHOOD REVIEW

When we say a movie has an epic scope, it’s easy to flash to the image of battling pirate ships or massive space worlds. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood has just such a scope but for no reason that could match any of the aforementioned.

Decades in the making, Boyhood is an ambitious film experiment dedicated to showing the passage of time in the most naturalistic way possible. Not only is there an excellent, if difficult idea at hand, the finished result is just excellent filmmaking.

Told over a 12-year stretch of time, the film follows young Mason Evans, Jr. from the first grade in 2002 all the way to finishing high school and heading to college and how the ups and downs of life with divorced parents shaped his upbringing.

It’s a big undertaking to have a story that actively takes place over 12 years; it’s a completely innovative one to eschew makeup and multiple actors in favor of filming the same actors for more than a decade. There’s a feeling of genuineness throughout Boyhood, much of it coming from us watching the same group of people over the years. Call it schmaltzy, but there’s a real warmth in watching this kid grow up and go through all the triumphs and pitfalls many of us go through during those formative years.

Then again, Linklater has a talent for conveying his stories as naturally as possible. The director leaves no question as to what place in time we’re watching thanks to some comprehensive pop culture nods, granted he didn’t need to rely on hindsight as they were happening (one scene even features a Harry Potter book premiere, reminding us all that people used to line up for hours at midnight for five pounds of paper.)

But much like the director’s Before series, the thing that drives home Boyhood‘s naturalism rests largely in conversation. Whether it be early discussions between Mason, his sister and their divorced father about politics, marriage and bowling or talks in Mason’s later years as a disillusioned, uncertain teenager, the heart of the film lies in the simple exchanges between characters that reveal just a little bit more about us as people. More often than not, it shows itself to be an introspective, beautiful heart indeed.

Now, it’s understandable that some people may hear of a film running almost three hours made up mostly of conversation and turn the other way. It’s not completely invalid either since the film takes a while to sink in in the beginning and is made up of segments rather than one pointed story throughout. As an extensive, intimate indie film, it goes without saying that not everyone will have the tolerance needed for Boyhood.

At the same time, that’s sort of Boyhood‘s charm. A film chronicling 12 years of life is probably going to be a bit lengthy and to even hit some iota of emotional truth the movie should be tender. The things that make the movie unappealing to some are what make it unique for most.

And that’s ok because at the end of the day, Boyhood is simply one of those rare films where you feel like you know more about life upon viewing. There will likely never be another film to match the remarkable technical achievement of Boyhood but at the same time there may never be another film that captures the emotions and questions of growing up as intimately and truthfully as this.

8.5/10

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FRANK REVIEW


Sometimes creative people can be a bit crazy. Or perhaps crazy people just have a leg up on being pretty creative. Frank has plenty of both going on, as the film, chronicling the adventures of a mysterious musician, goes through a whirlwind of bizarre comic situations and deeply emotional moments.

At worst, it can feel like you’re going a bit loopy yourself, what with all the ups and downs. But far more often, Frank feels like a genuinely creative being, brimming with out-of-the-norm humor and moments of emotional truth, strange as they may be.

Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) is a young, struggling songwriter looking for his moment of inspiration to help make his music not quite so terrible. After a chance encounter, Jon gets the opportunity to substitute on keyboards for a show with a traveling avant-garde band, The Soronprfbs (don’t worry, not even they know how to pronounce it). There, he makes an impression on Frank (Michael Fassbender), the musical genius behind the group who wears a giant fake head at all times, and is invited to participate in the group’s insane writing process. All the while, Jon’s chronicling of the band on social media stirs up tension among his fellow members, especially the hate-filled theremin player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), culminating in a trip to Texas where everything unravels.

Anyone who has even vaguely heard of Frank should know by now that Michael Fassbender’s performance wearing the giant head is the eye-catching aspect of the pic and deservedly so. If it’s not clear yet that Fassbender is one of the most magnetic (yes, pun intended), versatile actors around, then a) what’s wrong with you and b) this movie is the latest proof. It doesn’t matter that he’s wearing five pounds of paper mache on his head; the guy projects oodles of nuance into a character that could be just a one-note joke.

But there’s so much more to Frank than just a movie about a guy with a funny head. Director Lenny Abrahamson’s dramedy touches upon themes like the toll of being truly creative, artists’ relationship with fame and social media and bending to the expectations of others. It’s a movie with subtle but thoughtful messages and sweet, sometimes heartbreaking moments.

The danger with Frank was that it could become another precious, hollow indie flick. However, the film’s genuine emotional core proves it’s certainly not hollow, while the humor of the flick shows it’s anything but precious. Frank’s overall sweetness and naiveté results in some unforgettable gags (announcing his facial expressions and the creation of his “most likable song ever”) but it also sets you up to not expect all the considerably darker, more messed up stuff that comes from his band mates. 

There’s a consistently funny effect in going back and forth between the big headed band leader finding inspiration in everything to a sudden stabbing or the depressed band manager’s trouble with mannequins. The music itself can also be quite good despite being, ya know… out there.

Though the effect of it is understood, the tone of the film can be manic. Slack pacing in the beginning is something of a chore, as is having patience with the somewhat self-righteous Jon, but it ultimately helps once we dive headlong into Frank’s weird world and start pogoing between silly neuroticism and unfortunate happenings.

Frank is nothing if not unique. Its strange subject matter doesn’t leave many mysteries for why it isn’t playing in many locations, but it’s well worth the effort to find. Everyone should be able to find enjoyment from a wacky musician with an oversized head. However, if you’ve ever felt like you’re going to mind-splitting extremes to get your creative juices flowing, whatever your craft may be, or changing your behavior so your anonymous Twitter followers are satisfied, Frank should hit a deeper chord than just “funny head-guy movie.”

8/10

Frank is now available on iTunes and Video On Demand services, and is currently playing at the Lagoon Cinema in Minneapolis.