Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’: Can it be a mainstream breakout?

Director Richard Linklater at the premiere of "Boyhood" at the 2014 SXSW Festival.
(Michael Buckner / Getty Images for SXSW)

One of the most intriguing releases of the 2014 award season (yeah, we said it) is “Boyhood,” Richard Linklater’s epic project that screened to rave reviews at Sundance.

As you may recall from the festival, “Boyhood” is the scripted coming-of-age film that Linklater shot over a remarkable 12-year period, a little bit each year, as we watch an ordinary boy (Ellar Coltrane) grow up while his parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) grow up with him--like a human time-lapse photography, as Hawke once called it.

On Wednesday, IFC Films--the company that financed the movie going back to the early 2000s--is set to announce its release plans, rolling it out later this year with a nice long awards runway to follow. The idea is to make it a breakout along the lines of Linklater and Hawke’s “Before” series, or perhaps even bigger.


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Can it work? The movie is highly distinct—most filmgoers, including this one, have never seen anything like it—though it also presents some challenges. Here’s a breakdown of its prospects with various groups:


Critics have been admiring Linklater’s recent period with growing intensity, dating to his comeback film “Bernie” a few years ago to last year’s “Before Midnight” — which won the LA Film Critics Assn. award for best screenplay--to the praise heaped on “Boyhood” at Sundance.

That will help plant a flag for this film, which is a classic critics-can-drive-it play. Expect high Rotten Tomatoes scores and plenty of blurbs, as they admire Linklater’s boldness and execution. That’s the easy target, in a sense.

Awards groups

Voters have liked Linklater’s recent work—“Midnight” garnered Oscar and Spirit award nominations for screenplay, and the movie landed Julie Delpy a Golden Globe nomination. “Boyhood” can certainly ignite parts of the Oscar base. But some caveats apply. The film is 2 ½ hours long, always a challenge in that busy time of year. It also finds its insight in the everyday—the kind of less obvious dramatic terrain than voters traditionally go for. An early-ish release is key, though when the “Unbroken” and “Birdman” films of the world begin to battle it out in the waning months of 2014, the campaign has to keep a movie like “Boyhood” in the conversation if it hopes to score some wins.

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How broad can its awards affection go? The back story will immediately bring voters out to screenings, and the ambition of the film will have some people—voters but also IFC—thinking big. That is--not just Linklater screenplay kudos (he has two Oscar nominations in the category) but also recognition for director and actors (Hawke and Arquette are very strong in supporting roles, and Coltrane is a revelation in the lead) and even picture.


“Boyhood” has a crowd-pleasing element in its way, because many people have raised children and everyone has grown up. (Well, nearly everyone.) The idea of watching that maturation process on screen is a fascinating one, though there are some who might say they worry about the latter stages of the picture as high school changes become a little more imperceptible. Teen viewers will also be a tricky group--it’s relatable but could be less interesting for some because of pacing and because it essentially predicts tribulations ahead. Marketing and some more significant money behind the independent release will be key.

IFC deserves its shot at releasing the movie, having stuck with it all these years, though it’s been a while since it tried something this big (the movie’s greenlight came not long after the massive success of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” back in 2002). One bar for success here is “Midnight,” which made $8 million at the U.S. box office. Given the buzz and the novelty factor, a goal higher than that is more than reasonable.


He sees flashes of his life screen at Sundance

In Richard Linklater’s 12-year ‘Boyhood,’ a portrait of a man

‘Before Midnight’ strikes new path n couple’s journeyFollow me on Twitter at @ZeitchikLAT