Richard Linklater has recently earned a lot of attention from both critics and audiences for his new film Boyhood, which I have unfortunately still not seen yet. Instead, I’m going to be looking at a movie that was the star of Linklater’s career and also a film that is considered by many to be the quintessential indie film and a modern day classic in its own right. This is Linklater’s 1991 film, Slacker. Being made with a meager $23,000 budget and shot on a 16mm camera, I believe that this truly is the indie film, but it also served as inspiration for film makers of a generation and gave a voice, however silly it may be, to a group of people no one wants to listen to.
The plot for this film is extremely simple in the sense that there is no plot. This film follows a group of lazy, quirky characters over a period of 24 hours in Austin, Texas. After staying with a character for a few minutes, we segue on to the next one to hear what that person has to say or what they do with the time that they could be using to do something productive. Over this day philosophies are spewed, alcohol is consumed, and life is pretty much just lived, which for this eclectic group of losers, isn’t really all that special. In their own ways, however, they are all totally fine with that.
Slacker feels very similar to a few of Linklater’s other later films, mostly 1993’s Dazed and Confused and 2001’s Waking Life. In both of these films, there’s just a whole lot of talking and hanging around without any really big plot developments, or really plots at all, but in some way, Linklater makes them work. The way he achieves this is by making all of the characters different and interesting. They may talk a whole lot of bullshit, but it’s so much fun listening to them say this bullshit with such confidence and bravado. While Slacker has the youthful angst and mentality of Dazed and Confused, it feels much more similar to Waking Life in terms of style. No, Slacker isn’t roto-scoped, but it is just made up of a bunch of people hanging around and talking, which is exactly what Waking Life is, except on a much deeper level.
It’s weird even thinking that Linklater wrote this movie since everything sounds so natural. This is a very difficult movie to make, in my opinion, because it all hinges on the writing and the performances to be executed as naturally as possible. There’s no plot for this movie to fall back on. The entire point of it is to hear and see these people go about a moment of their day, and if we don’t believe that that’s what is actually happening, then the whole movie is ruined. Luckily, even amongst all of the oddities, Richard Linklater and his cast pull off all the strange dialogue that you would expect to hear by a group of out of school/out of work youths who have nothing better to do than talk about their theories on every aspect of life.
What’s also really cool about Slacker is that this type of person is neither mocked nor praised. It’s quite clear that they aren’t who you want to turn into, but at the same time it seems like they are having a good time and enjoying the life that they have. It’s a nice middle ground that Linklater found, and it almost feels like he actually did just travel through Austin and go from one person to the next. The segues are also really fun, and they make everything feel connected. One thing I will say is that this movie can sort of start to wear on you. Trimming off 15 minutes definitely wouldn’t hurt it at all. It just seemed that some of the segments were nowhere near as interesting as others.
While Slacker isn’t a perfect film it certainly is a landmark in independent film making and it can not be denied that it has earned a place in film history, even though it was only made in 1991. Hell, this is the movie that directly inspired Kevin Smith to make his now iconic film, Clerks. Even though there is no plot to speak of, Richard Linklater’s Slacker is a movie that I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy, but ended up really liking it. The lack of story may definitely be a turn off to some people, but this shouldn’t deter someone from seeing this movie. Just spending time with this eclectic group of misfits is fun enough.