Various aimless yet opinionated wander around early ’90s Austin, Texas, as we see short snippets of their lives. There’s no plot, and the camera follows characters seemingly at random, as soon as it’s done with one conversation, the speaker is abandoned and forgotten, never to be seen again as we track some other person go about their day.
I’m going to start off by saying that I didn’t get on with this film. For one reason or another, I didn’t really gel with it, and for that I think the fault lies more with me than the makers of Slacker. I watched it both for the 1001 Movies list, and also for a recent Lambcast episode focussed on the work of director Richard Linklater, for whom this is his second feature, but the first to garner a cult following. That podcast episode is not one that I’m particularly proud of, as it basically sees me moaning about Linklater’s films (including the recently derided Before Trilogy) whilst the likes of Dan Heaton, Vern, Justin and Dylan attempt to persuade me otherwise, but to little effect. I apologise to those fine fellows, it just seems that – barring a few exceptions (School of Rock and A Scanner Darkly) – Mr. Linklater and I are incompatible cinematically. It probably didn’t help that I watched all of his films whilst in a relatively poor mood – my housing troubles seem to be far from over – yet this is a poor excuse. He just doesn’t provide what I look for in terms of a worthwhile movie experience.
Anyway, back to Slacker. Like I said at the start, there isn’t really a plot to this film, merely a series of barely connected sections of people’s days. And my people, I largely mean crackpots, nutjobs, psychopaths, delinquents and, above all, slackers; generally a bunch of people I’ve no desire spending any time with, yet here I’m stuck, forced to endure 90 minutes of asinine ramblings and ludicrous conspiracy theories. There’s a reason you wouldn’t want anybody in this film not to sit next to you on the train even for ten minutes, so I can’t understand the decision to want to willingly watch and listen to these people for an hour and a half. There’s a girl attempting to sell a pubic hair salvaged from Madonna’s pap smear, a surly hitchhiker with nothing but aggression even for those that help him, and some “artists” attempting to recreate the menstrual cycle as a driveway art installation, formed of 28 bowls full of water.
The acting is equally as atrocious, but then that’s only to be expected from a cast of complete unknowns and mostly people who weren’t even actors. This led to the viewing being a painful experience at times, which wasn’t aided by lines of dialogue like “Sorry I’m late.” / “That’s OK, time doesn’t exist.” Well, I wish this film didn’t, as then I’d have that 90 minutes back. Not only that, but it’s relatively poorly made too, with the boom descending into shot on multiple occasions, and the camera work utilising the shakiest of hands to hold it, particularly towards the end.
It wasn’t all terrible though. The one segment I appreciated occurred regrettably very early in the film, and follows the aftermath of a car crash in a single shot, with the camera zooming steadily out as onlookers arrive on the scene. That was at least well done, although the consistent volume of the dialogue was jarring, as by all rights it should have encroached upon inaudability towards the end, but never mind. I spent the rest of the film craving more moments like this, but alas they never came. The kids scamming a coke machine was nice, as was the relationship formed by the burglar and his would-be victim, but other than these briefest of respites I found myself longing for much, much more.
It is said that Linklater inspired many amateur film-makers to go out into the world and shoot their own work, so for that I suppose we have him to thank. If it weren’t for Slacker, chances are we might never have received Kevin Smith’s far superior Clerks, which garners Slacker an extra point just for that. Where Smith succeeded was by including likeable and interesting characters, humourous dialogue and situations that didn’t cause a deep desire within me to eject the DVD and fling it at a pigeon. Linklater, alas, failed on all counts.
Can I recommend this film? Well yes, but only in the sense that a lot of other people like it, so chances are there’s something here that I’ve missed, and I’m just being the overly negative creature that I’m beginning to garner a reputation as. Yes, it provides a viewpoint on a generation that’s over-educated but under-utilised, and yes it’s impressive what has been achieved with a minimal budget and unprofessional cast and crew, but that doesn’t make it something I’d be willing to sit down and watch again anytime soon, thank you very much.
Choose life 3/10