Kenneth Turan‘s task would have been easier had he liked Boyhood either more or less than he did. If in his view Richard Linklater‘s new movie was god-awful, he could have rolled up his sleeves and let ‘er rip. And if the Los Angeles Times film critic admired Boyhood as much as most critics do, he could have simply added his praise to theirs and called attention to himself on another day.
But Turan was lukewarm. “For me it was, at best, OK,” he wrote in an essay published in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune, “a film whose animating idea is more interesting than its actual satisfactions.” This reaction left Turan with a choice, a choice I’d like to think was difficult but probably wasn’t. He could elaborate on his opinion by picking his way through the elements of Boyhood, which Linklater filmed as his central actor grew from the age of six to 18. This approach would have demanded careful thought and careful writing. Expecting both, I eagerly began to read. I’d seen Boyhood just the night before and I had my own reservations.
But Turan had made the other choice. Instead of telling us about the movie he told us about himself.
“If you do it right, film criticism is a lonely job,” he began, fair warning of what was on his mind. But it still amazed me a little that by halfway through his essay he still hadn’t gotten around to Boyhood. He recalled other popular movies where he’d taken a dissenting view—Titanic, Pulp Fiction, Fight Club; he explained that he hadn’t reviewed Boyhood because he “didn’t want to rain on its parade”; he described Boyhood as a film “I was supposed to embrace, a small independent effort” with “humanistic themes.” Yet he was “cold to its charms.”
It was time for Turan to say something observant about Boyhood. Instead, he searched inside himself. “Had I missed something, had I been asleep at the wheel?” he fretted. “What was it about me as a critic that had led me down a path where no one else followed?”
For one thing, he went on, “I have become increasingly resistant to coming-of-age stories.” What’s more, though Turan felt “literally sacrilegious” saying so, Linklater’s 12-years-in-the-filming motif struck Turan as “in all honesty, a bit like a gimmick.” And with two paragraphs to go in his essay, he finally said something about the movie that a reader could either agree or argue with: Boyhood has its moments, Turan wrote, but “its narrative feels fatally cobbled together, veering haphazardly from underdone moments to overdone melodramatic contrivance.”
Would he embellish, cite examples? No. He went on to say something or other about our “culture of hyperbole” in which unworthy movies are anointed masterpieces by critics seeking significance in their meager lives, and he ended with a statement of the code he lives by: “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. . . . In the final analysis, as a critic either you’re a gang of one or you’re nothing at all.”
What a fine specimen of journalistic independence! A little earlier he’d let a confession drop. “I have always been cool to Linklater’s films,” Turan admitted, “have never connected emotionally to his self-involved characters.” The problem with self-involved characters is they can’t make connections.