(1991, Richard Linklater)
“I may live badly, but at least I don’t have to work to do it”
Richard Linklater is a bit of an odd director. Famed for his Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy, and considered the only director to adapt a Phillip K. Dick novel (A Scanner Darkly) without completely changing everything (like Blade Runner and Total Recall did).
He’s also fond of making quirky little movies where vaguely connected people reel off monologues, as evidenced by the dream-based weird-fest that was Waking Life. But before that came Slacker, an account of Generation X through the lens of various bizarre characters.
Slacker has no real plot. The camera swoops from scene to scene, where we witness someone delivering a monologue about their world view or doing something society deems unusual. We never stay long with individual characters and there’s no overarching plot thread. Sound terrible? Well, we’ll see.
I was aware of Linklater’s work, and highly enjoyed A Scanner Darkly and…uh…School Of Rock, but, more relevantly, I also enjoyed Waking Life. Kind of. As such, I was curious to see this, which was one of his first movies, and shared a similar concept.
It’s difficult to talk about Slacker. It’s a movie about pseudo-intellectuals, who take what they’re saying seriously, but with an element that maybe deep down they know that what they’re talking about is absolute nonsense. It’s a movie that demands that you pay attention and listen to these rambling stoners and decide whether or not what they’re saying makes any kind of sense to you.
It doesn’t help that all the acting is fairly bland for the most part, as clearly untrained actors reel off long lines of text that they probably don’t care about. But it works. It fits the slacker them rather nicely and sets the tone of the movie, giving us a collection of disinterested people who like to talk a lot but ultimately say nothing. Well, apart from Louis Mackey, who gave a theatrical rant about anarchism and was highly entertaining.
Yes, this sounds terrible, I know, but Slacker is oddly fascinating. The movie clearly knows that much of the dialogue is pretentious and is expecting us to agree. But it doesn’t judge its cast, it merely observes them and moves on, leaving the viewer to their own conclusions. It’s mildly amusing without being laugh-out-loud funny, it’s intellectual and simultaneously pretentious, and it’s absolutely awkward throughout.
But it’s so fascinating. I can’t explain why, but it is. There’s something kind of hypnotic about being this casual observer wandering through the neighbourhoods and university campuses of Austin watching all these twentysomethings debate and complain and theorise for no discernible purpose. It’s interesting to watch crazy conspiracy theorists talk so casually about JFK assassination coverups or terrorism via t-shirts. This is a town of oddballs and you never know what strange person you’ll encounter next.
Of course, it’s not for everyone. The lack of plot and the stoned, expressionless acting can get very tedious at times and the production values are incredibly minimal. Many people who watch this will simply think “what’s the point?” and “where’s the plot?” and “how many drugs was Richard Linklater smoking and how can we make him stop?”
But I kind of enjoyed Slacker, in the same way I kind of enjoyed Waking Life. It’s an interesting little film that’s worth watching again and analysing, and it’s an interesting glimpse into Generation X and their ramblings, but it requires a lot of effort on the viewer’s part and therefore isn’t going to rank high on my favourite movies list.
Starring Richard Linklater, Kim Krizan, Mark James, Stella Weir, John Slate, Louis Mackey & Teresa Taylor
Written by Richard Linklater
Produced by Richard Linklater
Cinematography by Lee Daniel
Edited by Scott Rhodes
Favourite Scene: The aging anarchist is played a lot more theatrically and enthusiastically than anybody else in the movie, and he’s fantastic.
Scene That Bugged Me: That business with Madonna’s pap smear. What’s all that about?
Watch it if: You like watching stoners
Avoid it if: You’re confused by the lack of obvious plot