I had a lukewarm experience with this film, though I did seem to enjoy the film more than my surrounding audience did. I was taken aback by the jeering I heard over the course of the film, and the sarcastic cheering I heard when the film ended. Usually, people just quickly and quietly shuffle out and leave if they did not like the film?
I really liked the film up until Mason becomes 15+. Super cute kids wrestling with the incomprehensible mysteries of relationships and societal expectations.
My largest problem with the work — I could not relate to it. A lot of the cinematography, the scoring seem to have been intended to induce a bittersweet nostalgia of time gone by, of fleeting youth. I did not feel any nostalgia. This boyhood presented on screen drew out my sympathy and commiseration during the periods of persecution by drunk fathers, but overall, it was an adolescence that seemed utterly alien. I am also an only child — people have told me that the scenes centering around sibling interaction did ring very true and made the film a fonder, more resonant experience.
For one, everybody in the core cast surrounding Mason was white. I grew up in an incredibly multicultural environment, and to me, this felt very dull. Mason and Sam, his sister, I found very interesting at the outset when they were children, but they became more dull as they grew up and conformed to caricatures. Eventually, became much more interested in the plight of the parents than that of the children. I found the scene where Mason is departing from his mom’s new apartment for college to be very affecting.
A second major problem tied to the relatability issue — there was not enough awkwardness for me. Characters would say, “Awkward,” “Ah, that was so awkward,” etc., but none of it felt that awkward. I remember puberty and growing up being a lot more awkward?
For all the suffering that Mason went through under the weight of his mother’s poor taste in men, I also found his situation to be glowingly ideal. A school with a dark room and a full Photoshop lab in Texas, where education is traditionally heavily underfunded, where there seems to be high support for the arts, classes teaching photography?
One photogenic girlfriend after another?
Another high school party in a huge mansion with a perfectly clean pool, with some students serving as de facto waitresses with jello shots? Oh, come the fuck on.
My other complaint was that the biological father played by Ethan Hawke seemed to get off scot-free in terms of criticism from the kids. Dude barely shows up, and is always constantly, jejunely jocular, but his kids basically adore him the whole time with the exception of a couple of modest criticisms? I have seen these jovial, absent fathers in real life, and while their kids love them in the beginning, coming into their late teens, they’ve usually accumulated plenty of anger and resent against their absent fathers.
Perhaps this was Linklater’s point? By exaggerating, mayhaps he intended to show that parents frequently get uneven raps, and that parenting, just like life, is brutally unfair? Perhaps he truly wanted to depict children becoming less interesting as they become teenagers as an unavoidable struggle of parenting? (I ask the latter question quarter-facetiously.)
Two sequences really made me cringe and bittered my aftertaste of the film:
One — the Ideal Professor character played by Patricia Arquette (more interesting as a mother than as a professor) is approached by a floor manager while she and her children are eating together at some restaurant. The audience groaned in recognition of the fellow, anticipating the cheese that would follow. Sure enough, he did not subvert expectations, revealing that a throwaway sentence about going to school from Patricia Arquette’s character in a trivial scene had inspired him to emerge from being a caricature of a Mexican laborer. English now grammatically perfect after only a couple of years, he waxes obstreperously about Arquette with a decorative Latino accent reminding the audience that no amount of education will turn one white and then grills the cheese with a pronouncement that the meal is on him and a compulsory “gracias.”
Two — the whole damn coda where Mason arrives at his college, and on the first day, meets his too-cool roommate who looks like a young Carrot Top, gets some drug, and then goes hiking with roommate + roommate’s girlfriend + roommate’s girlfriend’s roommate who claims to be starting a dance major, but already seems to have completed a PhD in the stunning looks department.
O suspense of disbelief, where art thou?