[I]f there’s a critique to be made of Linklater’s film, it is that it has a great deal more to say—or at least more interesting things to say—about grownups than about growing up. Remarkable as Mason Jr.’s physical transformation may be, socially and psychologically he’s not all that different at 18 from at six: a taller, more articulate version of the dreamy, aimless boy whose teacher complained that he spent his time “staring out the window all day,” but one whose life has developed in a relatively straight line—insofar, of course, as it’s had the opportunity to develop at all. Moreover, it is obviously a tricky thing to cast an actor so young and commit to his development over the next dozen years, and [actor Ellar] Coltrane never quite develops the gravitational pull to tether the movie. Yes, his character is meant to be an unfocused youth, but occasionally his comes across as merely an unfocused performance.
A much harsher Mark Judge finds that the “endless, enervating, boring” movie lacks spiritual depth, scoffing that it could be titled I Became a Teenaged Hipster. He psychoanalyzes the rave reviewers:
I think what we have here is an example of the Sideways syndrome.
Sideways is a mediocre 2004 independent movie that became a hit when critics began gushing about it. A.O. Scott in the New York Times had the courage to write that critics loved Sideways because the main character is a schlubby wine snob and critic. In others words, critics saw, and praised, not Sideways, but seeing themselves in Sideways.
Something similar may be going on with Boyhood. Movie critics identify with Mason’s social awkwardness, the liberalism of his biological parents, even the gender-bending when Mason lets a girl paint his nails. Ann Hornaday: “By the time Mason, now a deep-voiced teenager, affects an earring, blue nail polish and an artistic interest in photography, viewers get the feeling that he’s dodged at least most of the misogynist conditioning of a boy’s life.” Yes, and he’s also missed the passion, and conflict, and girl-crazy adrenaline-rushed joy of being a boy.
Eve Tushnet identifies three major flaws in the film:
First and most basically, Mason the teen is just kind of boring. The movie slams to a halt when he hits about tenth grade and never recovers. We get acres of teen philosophy (“I just want to be able to do anything I want, just because it makes me feel alive, not because it gives me the appearance of normality”) and the stakes suddenly feel very low.
That’s because of the second problem, which is that Mason never does anything really wrong. He’s a prototypical good-but-aimless kid. We see his foibles–he’s a bit surly and a tad whiny, he smokes some pot if you consider that a foible, he comes home late at least once which possibly makes his mom cry, he sometimes fails to do his homework–but no real sins. … Where’s the casual cruelty of childhood, the hurtful rather than just boring narcissism of adolescence, the misdeeds which will only be acknowledged and regretted years later? I mean, I get that “Boyhood” isn’t “Carrie,” but must it be “Annie”? …
And the final problem is that as Mason nears college age, the Meaning of Life begins to rear its horrid head. And the meaning of life, it turns out, is that we feel stuff.