Slacker (1991): Richard Linklater’s Ultimate Independent Film

Slackerposter.jpgKudos must be extended to Richard Linklater for actually being proactive and going out to shoot the movie countless of us have doubtlessly tossed around in our mind’s eye. Taking our town — the places we know intimately — and building a portmanteau out of it with a group of friends.

There’s nothing flashy or that original about this universal concept per se, but it always strikes one as more than just a straightforward story. There is a bit of artistry to its execution, while still functioning on the most shoestring of budgets.

Even one of my favorite bands in high school, Reliant K made their own rendition involving a soccer ball. But again, Linklater has time and history on his side, because he was the one who actually got it made. Few others would have the wherewithal to get it off the drawing board.

What’s more, Slacker actually has some genuine life to it by capturing a very specific subculture and locale like a time capsule of 1990s Austin, Texas. It takes pieces of the world he knows and promotes them to a wider audience, which is one of the cool perks of cinema. It’s able to take a localized image and globalize it, despite how humble the reach might have been, to begin with.

Better yet, the up-and-coming director dares to open the picture with his own monologue, musing about his dreams and alternate realities to his uninterested taxi driver. He teases a hypothetical scenario where he was invited into a beautiful girl’s hotel room just for standing at the bus stop. He matter-of-factly curses to himself that he should have stayed behind, before picking up his bags to go, effectively choosing a different fate.

From thenceforward, the camera is on the move as well. Because this isolated sequence is only one among a whole bunch of other asides helping to predict the conversing integral to The Before Trilogy or even a more communal vision like Dazed and Confused. Though the characters nor the dialogue builds that same type of rapport with the audience, one could easily argue they are not supposed to.

This is a near stream-of-consciousness exercise with the camera following its whims, roving around, and taking an almost bipolar interest in everything. You get the sense Linklater knew full-well what he wanted to capture; still, he makes it look organic. There’s this constant mixture of intellectualization and socializing going on.

A mother is run over by a car. A husker sings his tune on a street corner. People run into each other serendipitously. Handheld walk-and-talk scenarios make the action simple and fast.

Some of the characters are definitely “whack,” but that’s all part of the fun. The dialogue grabs hold of any weird quirk or a bit of oddness it can from conspiracy theories, aliens, television, the JFK assassination, anarchy, literally anything at all.

This one is an important landmark of indie filmmaking right up there with Cassavetes works or Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989), paving the way for everything from Clerks to the wave of indies that came to fruition in the mid-90s and early 2000s.

While I don’t find it quite compelling in this given era, there’s no way to underplay what it means for movies. Many are indebted to Linklater, and the beauty is that the director is still churning out quality work, both personal and commercial.

In fact, I’m a little in awe of him, because it seems like he’s constantly managing to make the projects he wants. He will not give up on his own artistic aspirations. In the age of the blockbuster, those are admirable motivations.

3/5 Stars

Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

everybody wants some 3“Things are only as meaningful as the meaning that we allow them to have.” ~ Beverly

How can Sisyphus and baseball be connected? Budding lovebirds Jake (Blake Jenner) and Beverly (Zoey Deutch) tackle this question as they float contentedly in inter-tubes with college just beginning. Sisyphus is, of course, the mythical figure who tragically spent his entire existence pushing a boulder up a hill. How does that relate to baseball? Just like anything, if it becomes our sole focus, it takes on immense meaning. Looking at it one way or another it can either be seen as a blessing, a curse, a chance at a singular purpose or even an obsession. But without question, each individual person has a chance to latch onto what they find meaning in as they float through life fluctuating between contentedness and discontentedness. That’s not only what college but, what life in general, is all about.

But that’s enough waxing philosophical because as Richard Linklater has the penchant for doing, Everybody Wants Some is a romanticized, idyllic visual collage, of what it is to be in college, what it is to be a baseball player, what it was like to do all those things in the 1980s. Some will look at it disinterested because it seems to be a pretty narrow lens but as we already acknowledged, Linklater’s films always carry a fondness for their subjects — oftentimes capturing moments, little snapshots of time and space, the building blocks of life really.

We can even look at Richard Linklater, his past, his pedigree and there’s no doubt that this is another meaningful film for him. For some, there will be a similar meaningfulness to this time capsule of his. However, even for those who are not quite sold, there’s something deeply personal and heartfelt about his work that’s hard to take away from him. In that respect, his work is always universal.

In truth, Linklater follows in the tradition of many of the great European filmmakers where Plot is certainly not king. Because anything in screenwriting 101 or out of the Hollywood milieu emphatically declares that conflict is key. Watch most anything from the Texas native and the normal plot conventions go out the window since that’s not where his interest lies. And yet Everybody Wants Some still remains diverting during its entire run.

It follows in the footsteps of Dazed & Confused over 20 years its elder and it’s a film similarly ripping at the seams with song and dance. It’s another one of the vignette movies basking in nostalgia whether it’s Van Halen, Twilight Zone anecdotes, Gilligan Island punk music or any number of other things. These boys spend, not the last night after high school, but the waning days before college sitting around their house talking about who knows what, getting sky high, hitting golf balls off rooftops and taking part in endless competitions in ping pong, knuckles and anything else that can be needlessly turned into a game.

But to a lesser extent, Linklater’s latest film also has ties to Boyhood because although it might take place decades before, it picks up where the other film left off. It’s easy to forget but a big part of Everybody Wants Some!! is about a boy meeting a girl in the first days of college.

There’s still so much to be done and the film only briefly brushes on what it means to be in college but that’s not its main objective. Anyone who has played sports or went to college can identify with the camaraderie of being part of a team or the elation of all the excitement laid out in front of you the next four years.

Everybody Wants Some!! uses the typical Supers onscreen to denote the countdown until reality hits and school and sports begin for real. There’s a brevity to the moment that this film captures. Sure, in many ways, it’s filled with raunchiness and raucous fun but it also signifies a carefreeness that is very rarely realized at any other time in your life. It brings to mind one of the ballplayers Willoughby. It comes out that he faked his transcripts and is actually well over the playing age. Why would he do such a thing? We would think it’s for some competitive advantage, but no,  he just wanted to prolong this little piece of paradise. Partying and playing baseball with the world as your oyster.

Because whereas this is the beginning for some like Jake, it’s also nearing the end for others. That’s the scariness and in some senses the beauty of life. All of us are walking along our own roads like passing ships in the night but that does not mean we have to go it alone. The key is finding community and honing in on a purpose that gives our lives meaning. We have to live for the moment because those moments are transient and before you know them, they’ll be gone. Make the most of them. Enjoy them. This year as well as next.

3.5/5 Stars

Dazed and Confused (1993)

DazedConfusedThis film struck me as being very reminiscent of American Graffiti. It did for 1976 Texas, what the other film did with 1962 Modesto California. It has its own share of cars, a killer soundtrack, and ensemble cast involved in all sorts of vignettes and escapades.

School’s out and all that is left to do is live it up. However, as the kings of the school, the seniors have it easy. They get to subject all the new freshmen to initiation. Girls just get embarrassed, boys get paddled and you cannot choose your poison. You would think that all the seniors have the life that they want. After all, they have friends, they have good times, but for some of them they do seem to realize there is something else that’s missing. Of course right now they just want to have one epic good time.

This is one of Richard Linklater’s great earlier films and for the most part is was pretty good. He’s come a long way with films such as Before Midnight and Boyhood, but this is an important film if you want to understand where he’s come from.

4/5 Stars

Before Midnight (2013)

Before_MidnightWell, I was expecting great things from this film as the third installment in an intriguing romantic trilogy. I will admit that at first I thought it was decent but I was not blown away.

My favorite moment had to be near the middle when Jesse and Celine took a walk through the ancient streets of Greece. Their conversation was reminiscent of the previous two films and I appreciated that.

However, the beginning of the film was filled with family moments, discussions with friends and little time of Jesse and Celine alone like the years before.

When they finally were alone they were quick to argue and lose their tempers over familial issues and seemingly petty problems. Even to the end of the film, their relationship seemed perhaps more creaky than it had ever been.

However, over time I realized that these things that I did not like made the relationship of Jesse and Celine all the more realistic. They are not the starry-eyed kids or the young lovers meeting up for romance. They have children, strained relationships with former spouses, more wrinkles, full time jobs, and 40 years under their belts, and that is the way that real life often is. So I’ve been told.

I’m not sure if Celine and Jesse will ever be brought back to screen, but I know that I was ultimately satisfied with the place we left them at. As Ethan Hawke said it all began as a story about what might be, then it was a film about what should be, and Before Midnight was the film about what actually is. Linklater did us a favor by not giving into the conventions that we are so often used to, because he was never one to do that before, sunrise or sunset. His lovingly crafted romance would not sink to that level and should not sink to that level. It remained true to itself and even if it was not what I wanted, it was what was called for.

Who knows, 9 years down the road we might get another installment, until then I will be content with the love story Linklater, Hawke and Delphy so graciously gifted us. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s genuine and that is far better.

4.5/5 Stars

Before Sunset (2004)

Before_SunsetIn this sequel to Before Sunrise we come back nine years later.

There is a certain degree of eagerness and nervousness as we wait to hear what happened in the months following Before Sunrise. We find out that Jesse and Celine did not actually meet 6 months after their first encounter. In all reality, what were we expecting? I myself had a secret hope that they would meet again. It’s the romantic in me, but that’s not how life ends up working out. Jesse showed up but the sudden death of Celine’s grandmother detained her. That’s one of the plights of this human existence.

Now Jesse is a writer who made a book about their evening together and one day in Paris while promoting his book there is Celine smiling through the window.

Here they are back together again nine years later with 1 hour to catch up before Jesse has to take a flight back to the States. With the passing of the years we now find ourselves watching an older, wiser, pair. They are both married now.

Jesse has lost the long hair and he is not quite so young in the face but it is still the same guy. Celine is still very pretty but more mature than the young French girl from the earlier film. Most importantly of all they still have a knack for deep, highly personal conversations.

A lot is covered as they chat through the streets of Paris. My most favorite moment however comes when Celine plays Jesse the Waltz she wrote. It is a beautiful little ballad in its own right and it shows her personal connection with Jesse that still lasts over all these years. What he encapsulated in his best selling book she documented in a song. We leave them once again as two slightly different people who still have a penchant for conversation, love and sentiment.

The film starts and like a blip on the radar it is already finished. In some regards it is rather disappointing, but not as unsatisfying as this short rendezvous must be for Jesse and Celine.

I have no bitterness, my sweet
I’ll never forget this one night thing
Even tomorrow, another arms
My heart will stay yours until I die

Let me sing you a waltz
Out of nowhere, out of my blues
Let me sing you a waltz

~A Waltz for a Night

4/5 Stars

Before Sunrise (1995)

Before_Sunrise_posterThis is a fascinating film not just about love and romance but higher, deeper concepts altogether. Without knowing the idea already existed, this is the film I always wanted to make in my head!

Two people meeting in a place under unusual circumstances (on a train in a foreign country), and then building a bond over a single day that evolves into something really special very, very quickly.

This is exactly happens with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy who do a wonderful job playing two genuine people who have their own set of ideas, aspirations, fears, memories and unique personalities to go with them.

They spend an evening in Vienna and create a memorable flashbulb moment out of it. One instant that sticks out in my mind is when they are sitting at a restaurant with many conversations going on around them. However, the two of them have pretend telephone conversations with other people. Through it Jesse and Celine learn how the other feels about them. It is so beautifully captured because they do not have to say it directly, but through this roundabout way they know.

Perhaps this film sounds like a bore to some and it may in fact be because a lot of it is talking. But Linklater and his collaborators frame it in such a way that I was very much engaged. Isn’t a lot of life talking anyways? In that way it had a spontaneous, realistic feel and that is thanks to a solid script along with the candid delivery of the leads. When I first saw Julie Delphy I had no idea she was French and it took me a while to catch on. She and Hawke play well off of each other and it is interesting to be able to eavesdrop on their conversations.

Before Sunrise was a pleasant surprise because it failed to fall into many of the normal conventions of romantic comedies and instead it rose above the mediocrity to tackle the ins and outs of love and life through frank and wonderfully unadulterated conversation. I cannot wait for more of Linklater’s trilogy.

4.5/5 Stars

Boyhood (2014)

13113-boyhood1Surely others have said this already but Boyhood struck a chord with me and it was the prettiest of melodies.  Pure and simple in its brilliance.

This is not my childhood by any means or my life or my family, but there are glimpses of it here. Quick flashbulbs or touchstones that for a brief instant take me back. Sometimes many years ago or just one or two. Nostalgia is the strangest type of memory for a young person, because we are transcending the space between the here and now, which we are so used to, and going to the “back then.”

12 years is a long time but even more so when you have fewer years under your belt. Thus, Boyhood in comparison to my own life is an epic film in every sense of the word. Whereas it might only be a wonderful coming-of-age tale for older generations, there is a feeling that this film in some small way represents where I’m coming from.

A film could never fully encapsulate or perfectly represent what it is to grow up in adolescence. It’s different for every child depending on where they live, what their family is like, and so on. But Boyhood is an unprecedented depiction of what that existence looks like to many young people. There is certainly something special and important in that.

1cce5-boyhood2There are so many different vignettes, almost like short films, characterizing each and every year in Mason Jr.’s life. We are given no blatant indication of time and place. It is all context clues, cultural references, and watching Mason and his family grow and evolve around him. Always innovative Richard Linklater does not hold out a giant megaphone saying this happened that year or this year. Instead, Mason’s story plays out like it would in the so-called “real world.” There are some major milestones or life-shaping moments that are shown, but most of this journey has to do with the little caches of time that make up life.

I feel drawn to do something that I don’t normally do, but Boyhood is such a unique film it deserves to be approached in a different light since to put it truthfully, it cannot be pigeonholed into any standard category.

Instead of trying to acknowledge the entire narrative of Mason’s life, which would be as impossible with him as with anyone else, I want to give reference to the many moments and bits and pieces that Linklater placed either by accident on purpose. The fact is Boyhood is chock full of these markers of the passage of time which make it a fascinating journey of human life.

Here we go, get ready:

Coldplay’s Yellow over the credits
Britney Speares fandom
Star War dilemma: Yoda vs. Grievous
Game Boys and Wave Boards
The Astros’ Rocket Roger Clemens
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
The Landlord – Will Ferrell
High School Musical – We’re All in This Together
Wii Boxing with a Nunchuk
Presidential Election in 2008
Facebook profiles
The Dark Knight
Phoenix – 1901
Twilight books
War in Iraq and Afghanistan
Lady Gaga and Beyonce
Iphone Facetiming
Gotye – Somebody That I Used to Know
Atlas Genius – Trojan

and on and on….

c94ae-boyhood3Against this backdrop, the separation of Mason’s parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) takes center stage. Next, follows another failed relationship riddled with abuse. Switching cities and starting a new life followed by another step-dad and another failed marriage. Then, dad (Hawke) gets remarried and it actually works out. There’s peer pressure and experimentation. Girls become a big deal. Photography is a passion. Sister (Lorelei Linklater) goes through the rebellious phase. High School graduation comes around and college soon after. Breakups happen and life still continues ever onward.

You could make an argument that Linklater could have gone on longer. He could have wrapped everything up nice and neat or cheated and fast forwarded to the end. But that was not his way out and it did not have to be. College is a major moment of change, confusion, and finding oneself, so in a sense, it is a fitting place to leave Mason behind.

He remained introspective, philosophical, and aloof for the majority of his life, despite family of origins issues and the like. It is mind-boggling to think of all the people cycled in and out of his life. Ever changing and often forgotten.

Thus, Boyhood is a gift to us for a multitude of reasons, but hopefully, its visual biography of Mason Jr. will lead us down memory lane and cause us to consider our path. For most of us, we have more than 12 years in front of us. Let us use our time well and wholeheartedly navigate the realities of life whether it is movie worthy or not. It’s our life and that’s all that matters.

4.5/5 Stars