Slacker (1991)

 

Once you get past the acting... you're a Saint
Once you get past the acting... you're a Saint

Genre: Comedy Drama

Starring: Over 90 different slackers, including Richard Linklater himself

Directed By: Richard Linklater (Before SunriseWaking Life)

Overview: Following a moment in the lives of the lazy, unemployed slacker youths in Austin, Texas.

I’ve said before that Martin Scorsese has two directorial sides. There’s the Cape Fear / The Aviator / Hugo Scorsese, then there’s the immortalized side of him, the gritty drama side of him: the Goodfellas / Taxi Driver / Raging Bull side of him. Richard Linklater also has these two completely different sides to the stories he tells. He has his “I’m a mature adult” movies like Me and Orson Welles and the Before Sunrise Romance Drama trilogy. Then there’s the Linklater I know, with younger, more psychedelic movies like Dazed and Confused, Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly, and his second feature, Slacker

Slacker’s story is mostly a series of barely thematically-related monologues and dialogues. We begin by watching one young man as he arrives in Austin, Texas by bus (Richard Linklater himself) who then speaks at length to a cabbie about a dream he just had. When he gets out of the cab, we follow someone on a nearby street corner. Once that tale is complete, the camera follows the conversation of the people nearby. They walk and talk to a café, then we watch  someone else who's there, and so on and on until the credits. Slacker is essentially the plotless story of a sub-culture of the lazy, the unemployed, the unemployable, the off and the downright mad. Some characters are going through break-up rituals or just chatting about their band, others are talking conspiracy theories and anarchy. Then there’s those characters who are just plain crazy, like the rambling madwoman who writes on Post-it notes and repeats the words “You should… You should quit traumatizing women with sexual intercourse... I should know... I'm a medical doctor... I own a mansion and a yacht... You should quit traumatizing women with sexual intercourse...”

That's the TV guy, couldja guess?
That's the TV guy, couldja guess?

The moment I understood how Slacker was going to play out, I thought of the movie Twenty Bucks (1993). In that one we follow the ‘life’ of a particular $20 bill in New York City as it changes hands. Slacker does the same thing but instead of a $20 bill, we’re watching people make a point until someone in proximity becomes the new focus. The vignettes we hear are complete mini-stories; never are we cut off mid-sentence to move on to the next person, in mid-sentence. I praise Linklater for his script, which is the strongest part of the movie, even if sometimes it seemed like everyone was trying to come up with a monologue wackier than the last one. Unlike his incredibly dense script for Waking Life, Slacker’s is light and funny enough to carry us to the end in one sitting.

Video Backpacker: To me, my thing is, a video image is much more powerful and useful than an actual event. Like back when I used to go out, when I was last out, I was walking down the street and this guy, that came barreling out of a bar, fell right in front of me, and he had a knife right in his back, landed right on the ground and... Well, I have no reference to it now. I can't put it on pause. I can't put it on slo-mo and see all the little details. And the blood, it was all wrong. It didn't look like blood. The hue was off. I couldn't adjust the hue. I was seeing it for real, but it just wasn't right. And I didn't even see the knife impact on the body. I missed that part.

Unfortunately there isn’t much else going for Slacker to warrant earning its place in the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book. Aside from the occasionally inspiring long-take and original goings-on, it’s standard Wednesday evening fare. But then... eesh... then there's the acting and delivery. There’s ‘honest’ and there's ‘new-wavey’ and then there’s what Linklater let slide over and over. His actors are partly chosen because they aren’t pretty, that I get – I’d be horrified to suddenly learn that I was fugly because I was cast in Slacker – but Christ, these people can’t pantomime themselves out of a shark tank, to turn a phrase. You forgive the first ten clunky performances, but when some entire scenes are so bad that you’re embarrassed for the people in them, you throw your hands up and submit to realizing that fundamentally  Slacker's got some real unrehearsed stink.

T-Shirt Terrorist: Remember, terrorism is the surgical strike capability of the oppressed. Keep on keepin' on!

Still Slacker has a captivating madness to it. There's conspiracy theories - maybe too many, frankly - and crazy people, not to mention a scene with Madonna’s pap smear; these are the things that keep the one gimmick that is Slacker entertaining to the end.

 Anarchist: 1 Gun-Wielding Thug: 0
Anarchist: 1 Gun-Wielding Thug: 0

Performance: 3 Cinematography: 7 Script: 8 Plot: 7 Mood: 6

Overall Rating: 62% (They Sure Didn't Do Their Drama Homework)
Aftertaste:

The reason it’s in the book, sayeth the grand 1001 tome, is partly due to “Combining a certain formal logic with an illogical drive toward spinning out gratuitous fantasies and digressions”. I can translate that to ‘it has a theme and there’s some wackety-shmacketiness going on’. I call just a little bit of bullsh on that. Rather than taking Linklater’s best films like A Scanner Darkly, or Waking Life, our well-meaning Stephen J. Schneider just chose Slacker to help buffer the 1991 film annum for the tome. I hope the new 10th anniversary edition coming in September will correct the obvious Per Year Quota. In fact, more 1927, I say!

P.S. I was trying to really define for myself how bad the acting was for my Performance score. This is what I came up with:

6 is better than bad

5 is worse than good

4 is annoying

3 is distracting

2 is offensive

1 is Pinochet-grade reprehensible.

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