David O. Russell is such an odd cat, isn’t he? The movies are uneven and often perilously close to sentimental, but I’ve enjoyed every one of them. I think he thinks in moments rather than stories, rather like a poet; perhaps this helps explain my attraction. What I remember, a couple weeks after seeing this during a rare trip to the multiplex with Wendy, isn’t the satisfying rags to riches narrative promised by the trailer, or the pedantic little essays about being yourself and staying true to your dreams, but the little quirks and eddies off to the side of the story, most of which are narratively or thematically unnecessary, but nevertheless the best parts of the movie. The taciturn Haitian plumber who comes to stay, the fake snowstorm outside the Texas toy shop, the paunchy and enraged would-be auteur QVC presenter, the homespun no-frills shooting range next door, the outrageously inappropriate wedding speech, Bradley Cooper’s mesmeric scansion of QVC’s commercial rhythms (OK, that last one is thematically necessary), and many more. Like Silver Linings Playbook, this movie pretends to be about a lot of Important Things, but it’s the weird little baubles strung on the string of its story that really catch your eye. I could do a whole thing here about America and better mousetraps and cable TV and second wave feminism, but I’d rather just think about Joy’s mother and the Haitian plumber poking their heads into a room, each with a bowl of soup joumou.
Childhood memories are like dreams: They reveal a lot about you, but they’re generally of interest only to you, those who love you more than is healthy, and those you pay $200 an hour. I couldn’t stand Linklater’s Sunrise and Sunset and Around Sunset and Getting Close to Sunrise movies–wait, is Twilight one of his too?–because while I recognized and identified with the emotional situations of the characters, I didn’t see any reason why I should pay money to marinate in their garden-variety self-delusions and poetic fantasies when I had my own perfectly serviceable picayune memories of youthful joy and disappointment to savor back at home. This has always been Linklater’s jam, to take my own Gen X experience and put it on the screen for me to review. I guess people a lot younger or older than me might find this stuff more novel? But that would be to assume that my generation is somehow unique, which I don’t really believe. I was living in Austin when Slacker came out, and it was totally weird to go see it there on the UT campus, with an audience who looked, felt, and smelled pretty much exactly the same as the cast on the screen. In a very real sense the movie was watching us, not the other way around. In Boyhood, Linklater wisely goes further back and picks up his protagonist around age six, well before he becomes completely annoying and starts saying things like, “What really matters in life, and what’s life anyway, and really when you think about it, what’s matter?” and “Don’t bogart that.” All adolescences are unhappy, and unhappy in almost identical ways, but unhappy childhoods are a bit more diverse and distinctive. As a result, I’m able to hang with this, interested and sympathetic, for about the first two-thirds, right up until the kid gets some hair on his upper lip and starts taking arty photos. Beyond that point, I’m better off stalking my own half-remembered crushes on the Internet or going out to take arty photos my own damn self. The scenes of adolescence, don’t get me wrong, are precisely, devastatingly accurate. The bit at the house under construction, five boys sitting around in terror of each other, sex, the past, sex, the future, sex, and above all themselves, desperate to be accepted and experienced, oblivious to the fact that time is passing, is pitch perfect. But so too would be a YouTube video of someone else’s root canal. Once was enough.