Oscar Review: Boyhood

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T- minus 4 days until my favorite awards show of the year! For the last eight years or so, I have teamed with my mother-in-law to enjoy a blow out Academy Awards party, complete with our own red carpet and paparazzi (Bless my father-in-law’s heart! At least he enjoys being behind a camera lens, even if he’d rather be shooting the aviary friends in his backyard.) This year we are unable to celebrate… and critique… and joke… and eat… and laugh… and most importantly COMPETE together, so we’ll have to settle for live texting from opposite corners of Texas with ballots in hand.

Undoubtedly, the most controversial film we continue to weigh in on is Boyhood. I disagree with its contention as a Best Picture, but I can see why the Academy holds it in such high esteem. They love artsy-fartsy stuff. I usually respect the artsy-fartsy stuff, even if I do have trouble appreciating it myself. However, in this case, even that is a stretch.

The Wall Street Journal reviewed the film last month, and I’m thankful the article explains the movie’s artistic element– how creator Richard Linklater produced the film by reuniting his actors for a handful of weeks each year between 2002 and 2013, allowing the audience a uniquely real view of the maturity and aging of the film’s characters.

Apparently, a similar idea has been used in photographs and a documentary, but not film. The article tells of a documentary created by Michael Apted which chronicles the “same group of British men and women every seven years since they were boys and girls.” The doc first hit screens in 1964 and was last updated in 2012. Similarly, a portfolio by Nicholas Nixon called “The Brown Sisters” showcases black-and-white portraits of Mrs. Nixon and her three sisters, the first of which was developed in 1975. The series crosses a 40- year span with the most recent photographs revealing that “the women’s faces and bodies are marked by the ruthless indignities of aging,” according to The Wall Street Journal. With all of that in mind, I can now more fully appreciate what Linklater has achieved cinematically. His is a groundbreaking film, in the context of art form.

Herein lies the problem with Linklater’s version of “real-time” film-making however: How in the world can he abandon a basic plot line in favor of the artistic element? The little boy (played by Ellar Coltrane) experiencing the process of maturity while the mother (Patricia Arquette) experiences the same thing, just during a later phase in life, does NOT equal plot. Maturity and aging are both themes, but they do not in and of themselves tell a story. The sequences failed to link together in a way that portrayed a seamless, able-to-be-followed common thread throughout the movie. Linklater aced film-making, flunked plot development 101. Points for trying though. And for pioneering “real-time” film-making.

Lastly, in short defense of Linklater’s script-writing, there remains a flash of brilliance found in the final scene of the film. The college-age main character, who by this point in the movie resembles little of his six-year-old self that started the story, says, “it’s constant, the moments, it’s like it’s always right now, you know?” That exact idea shadows the making of and the purpose of the movie– how the actors truly age right in front of us instead of using make-up and cinematic effects to produce the same affect. Enough symbolism to earn my praises as a Best Picture nominee? Not even close! But that’s some pretty expertly laid symbolism right there!

On Little Boys and ADD/ADHD: A candid look on a tired debate

I didn’t want to do it. My husband didn’t want me to do it. Some of our extended family still question it. Even our pediatrician let out an audible sigh when he admitted it was time.

It was time to start my eight-year-old, a third grader, on ADHD meds.

As I looked around the compact examining room, I eyed the juvenile artwork hanging above the examining table. I felt exactly like those multi-colored scribbles, the jagged, unsteady lines cross-crossing haphazardly over the print. It was beautiful in a way; it was equally chaotic.

Our pediatrician and I discussed different drugs that would meet our goals, the appropriate dosages to try first, the side effects to watch for. Though he proved patient and kind and sat with me in that little room for nearly an hour answering every question and devil’s advocate scenario I presented, I still felt oddly alone. The weight of the situation bared down as I realized no one could else could help me here. I couldn’t delegate; no one was coming to stand in and tell me what to do. I also felt that it would be inappropriate to poll our friends and family for their opinions. It’s just too touchy of a debate, and no one outside of our immediate family of five adequately understands the nuances of our family dynamic anyway.  Only I was equipped to make the call.

So, on a Friday morning shortly before Christmas, my first-born (in his shorts and t-shirt– this is Texas in December after all) and I headed down to the parking garage with a plan in hand. I felt excited, anxious, defensive, and a million other responses I couldn’t quite articulate.

I don’t regret the decision yet. Not as a parent, not as a fellow teacher, even though my mind and heart aren’t in complete harmony, even now. Part of me wants to buck up, start a grass-roots campaign calling attention to western education and the shove towards standardized testing and standardized education. This movement transforms students like my son away from their natural, eight-year-old boy tendencies into statues who are able to sit and robotically perform practice exercises for prolonged periods of time. The old adage “Boys will be boys” comes to mind. Maybe my son isn’t really ADHD; maybe he’s just a little boy exercising his God-given tendencies. (Note: I, in no way, accuse our current children’s teachers of failing to meet our students’ needs. We are SO BLESSED to have educators who defy the odds, make learning fun, and differentiate instruction to meet each individual students’ needs. Still, their efforts to achieve all of this most often require their superhero capes and a lot of prayer because of the current trends in our educational system. And as amazing as our teachers are, they’re still forced to work within the confines of such a system.)

The other part of me, the voice of reason that won over in the end, realizes my personal opinion on the state of our educational system’s affairs won’t help my son be successful in his classroom. I am a public school educator myself. Naturally, my own children will most likely complete their grade school education in a public school setting. Regardless of how I feel personally, my son needs to be able to function in a public school setting. He is one among many in his class. When his teacher needs him to sit still and remain quiet so she can direct teach or so other students can themselves concentrate, then he’ll need the medicinal help to make that happen.

He isn’t a boy who is merely misbehaving. He isn’t in need of a nice stern spanking; my husband and I are in agreeance of using well-timed, appropriately handled swats on the behind. His teacher isn’t failing to challenge him. He is eager to learn and eager to please, and I am willing to get him the help he needs to reach his “little-boy-in-a-public-school” potential.

Even if that means introducing a long-term drug into the family. It’s not what we expected when we cradled our sweet, shockingly observant newborn in our arms that first day of parenthood. But it’s become our new norm. That is the sign we’re making it as parents– our ability to adjust and accept life’s curveballs and create whatever new norm is best for our children.

We hit the curveball this time, and our son is better for it.

A typical entry in my third grader's school agenda.

A typical entry in my third grader’s school agenda.

Note the change in handwriting-- after only two weeks on meds.

Note the change in handwriting– noticeable immediately after starting meds.