Twelve years in the making, Richard Linklater's innovative yet simple passion project Boyhood kicks off the 2014 BAMcinemaFest, Brooklyn's annual celebration of indie film. We've got your best bets for films to look out for across the festival.
The One You Can't Miss
Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a film made by and for people who place a great deal of emotional importance on what it’s like to grow up as a boy in America. It’s right there in the title, after all. But I don’t think Linklater shies away from the fact that by following this one particular boy — white, working-class, child-of-divorce Mason (Ellar Coltrane) — he’s unavoidably limiting his scope. But in his specific and tightly focused way, Linklater sticks with the boy and lingers long enough for some very human truths to sneak out.
The ostensible hook here is that Linklater filmed the story, with the same actors, over a period of twelve years. Mason progresses from ages six to eighteen, grows up, experiences family turmoil, discovers interests and passions, discovers love, loses love, develops insufferable teenage opinions about music and the nature of modern lives. All the typical things, really. On his path, he's guided by any number of forces, most prominently his mother (Patricia Arquette) and father (Ethan Hawke), who we watch age across those dozen years with at least as much interest as we have in Mason. Arquette in particular offers quite a few layers, both as a mother figuring out her life with two school-aged kids but also as an actress aging before our eyes. Hawke does too, of course, maybe even more dramatically than Arquette does, but there's no denying that it feels more audacious to watch an actress visibly age over the course of a film when it feels like Hollywood doesn't allow them to age over the course of a career (at least not without repercussions).
Linklater smartly avoids making Arquette and Hawke's characters too much of a yin and yang, pulling Mason in opposite directions. Yes, Hawke starts out as the heedless "cool" alternate-weekends dad while Arquette is the every-day-headaches mom, but things progress. He gets more responsible. She goes through some incredibly hard times with a second husband. They both get more "settled," in the modern sense of the world, but there's a sadness lurking in the both of them, the kind that naturally comes when the series of paths you choose throughout your life mean there are endless paths that you haven't.
Mom and Dad aren't the only influences in Mason's life, though, and in the end, the whole experience of Boyhood is in watching this kid take it all in, things he learns from his parents and step-dads and step-mom and his sister (Linklater's real-life daughter Lorelei, who's held on to what I can only imagine are her signature bangs for a truly remarkable length of time) and his friends and his mom's friends and his dad's friends and the plentiful pop culture around him. It's nothing so trite as an "it takes a village" narrative, but along the way, you see how Mason is a product of his influences ... and how he's not. A lot of the straight-up advice he gets is terrible advice. There are more than a few bad examples set for him. There's as much, if not more, good example, and Linklater gives us the time and space to watch Mason sort through it all.
Other Major Screenings
The centerpiece is director Bong joon Ho's Snowpiercer, a not un-controversial film, though not for what's on screen. Producer and meddler extraordinaire Harvey Weinstein fought with Bong over cutting the movie down and adding explanatory voice-overs, but the 125-minute cut that will get released in the States is apparently in line with Bong's original vision. A dystopic sci-fi indie epic set on a train that houses the last of humanity after a global ice age, Snowpiercer is deliberately heavy-handed with the class metaphors. It follows an uprising from the grimy back of the train led by Chris Evans; Tilda Swinton plays a preening, rich administrator from the luxury cars at the front. Jamie Bell, Ed Harris, Octavia Spencer and John Hurt round out the impressive cast.
They Came Together is the latest comedy from director David Wain and stars two alums from his brilliant Wet Hot American Summer, Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler. In fact, Rudd has starred in all five of Wain's feature films (Wet Hot; The Ten; Role Models; Wanderlust; and this). It's a pointed take on the romantic comedy genre, sending up as many conventions as it can manage (the nested-story setup is verrrry Forget Paris). This one played at this past Sundance Film Festival, to generally positive, if qualified, reviews. Variety's Scott Foundas called the film lively and fun, but "it’s more of a dashed-off, minor-key effort by people we know are capable of more, and even at a mere 83 minutes it teeters on the brink of overstaying its welcome."
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter: Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi stars as a Japanese woman obsessed with the Coen brothers' film Fargo (we can relate), so much so that it blurs the lines between reality and fantasy, and she ends up traveling to America to seek out the money buried beneath that fencepost. Making this the second piece of entertainment to address that 18-year-old mystery this year.
Happy Christmas: Director Joe Swanberg had something of a qualified breakout last year with Drinking Buddies. He sticks with one of that film's stars, Anna Kendrick, for his next movie, a slight, somewhat unstructured take on a pair of siblings, where the fuckup one (Kendrick) moves in with the stable one (Swanberg) and his wife (Melanie Lynskey) and baby. Kendrick's character falls down an awfully familiar rabbit hole of banal irresponsibility and fuzzily-rendered romance (with reliable mumblecore presence Mark Webber). It's the scenes that Kendrick, Lynskey, and Lena Dunham (as Kendrick's friend) share that really sing. The three women decide to write a potboiler romance novel in order to finance Lynskey's stalled-out literary career, and the work is a spark and a bonding experience for Lynskey and Kendrick in particular. The scenes are such easily comedic standouts that there's even a post-credits scene.
10.000 KM: The long-distance relationship has a rich, doomed history in film and on television. Carlos Marques-Marcet's film sets committed couple Alex (Natalia Tena, of Game of Thrones and Harry Potter fame) and Sergi (David Verdaguer) on different continents, when Alex gets a year-long photography residency in L.A., far from her and Sergi's Barcelona home. The strength and chemistry of the leads propels the film, and there are some moments of real inventiveness as the film tries to find interesting ways to film a couple interacting over video-chat. After an intimate 24-minute opening sequence, the film does lag here and there, as the audence ends up well ahead of the characters, but it's overall a captivating experience.
I, Origins: It's perhaps a little strange to think of actor/writer/producer Brit Marling as a genre unto herself, but she wouldn't be the first indie presence to brand herself that strongly. After making two films with director Zal Batmanglij (Sound of My Voice and The East), she returns to writer/director collaborator Mike Cahill, who worked with her on Another Earth. I liked that film a good bit less than I liked Sound of My Voice and The East, but Marling is undoubtedly a magnetic presence, and I Origins pairs her with Michael Pitt as scientists who stumble upon a discovery that opens doors to the metaphysical.
For the Plasma: There are a lot of obvious influences in Bingham Bryant and Kyle Molzan's odd little curiosity. There's a good bit of Darren Aronofsky's Pi in this story of a woman at an observation station who's looking intently for meaning in the two-dimensional footage of the woods she's observing. The Brit Marling influence is there, maybe some David Lynch, even a bit of Nicole Holofcener talky-female-friends influence. It all feels decidedly low-fi, the actors even coming across as less-polished versions of who even indie movies might cast (I kept hearing Greta Gerwig and Mamie Gummer's voices), but there's enough genuine intrigue to keep the story moving along.
The 2014 BAMcinemaFest runs from June 18-29 and features 30 screenings, including a 25th anniversary screening of Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing on June 29th.
Additional reporting by David Sims.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article intimated that the Snowpiercer cut screening at BAM was Weinstein's edited version. It is in fact the director's cut.