"I had always tried to do the right thing, but in the end, my results were just a little split off center from the most, though the same was offered to everybody else; I mean, what could you blame me for?" Jeez, when Umphrey's McGee finally get done with all of that prog Grateful Dead jamming, even they're lyrics seem to stretch on a little too long... kind of like my sentences. Yes, people, I just referenced a song from the modern rock era, but it's okay, because modern prog rock and, by extension, Umphrey's McGee are pretty awesome, and at any rate, UM has the only song titled "Slacker" that I can tolerate, Tech N9ne. It all works out in the end, because UM's very Dead Head style of aimless style, punctuated by a little bit of talk is pretty fitting in a discussion regarding this film, and if that makes you nervous, don't worry, people, because this is by no means "It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books". I don't know how you would be aware of that film and not aware of this one, but still, the fact of the matter is that with this second feature, Richard Linklater started getting a bit more of a grip on actually telling a story. Well, maybe he was still a little rusty on narratives by 1991, but hey, he was certainly no slacker when it came to making this film, because he did everything, except, you know, make a decent film. Yeah, for someone who was involved in more-or-less most aspects of this film, Linklater does indeed really slack off, though not nearly as consistently as he did with "Learn to Plow", at least trying more with technical style.
Visual style is, of course, pretty important in a film this naturalist, and while this effort's filming is not as celebratory of a distinguished environment as the filming of "Learn to Plow" was, cinematographer Lee Daniel takes advantage of Richard Linklater's having equipment of much higher quality to work with by delivering on some appealingly even coloration and lighting that is relatively realistic enough to immerse, though not as much as the framing and camerawork. Richard Linklater's stylistic skills as a director are commendable, as his now-trademark and audacious usage of long and extensively intimate, yet smooth tracking shots nails a fly-on-the-wall feel that draws you into the world, no matter how much other directorial touches distance you, and it helps that the people Linklater follows so intensely and stylishly endear by their own right. Certainly, the performers aren't given much to do, but they are given the challenge of grounding themselves as characters who are both relatable and unique, and they succeed about as well as they can with questionably drawn roles, with enough distinctive charisma and, for that matter, chemistry bond you with the focuses of this sloppy ensemble opus. Each member of this diverse cast of mostly unknown talents convinces, perhaps thoroughly, and that's endearing, even more so than the writing, which doesn't even give you the common courtesy of being consistently believable while it unravels down a problematically minimalist path. However, as irony would have it, Linklater's script plays about as big a role in almost saving the film as it does in seeing the final product's collapse into mediocrity, being artistically overblown and maybe even intellectually overblown (Alright, Dick, we get it, you like to write characters with some kind of philosophical idea), but clever, at least in writing dialogue that ends up being instrumental in this minimalist character study, and attracts a fair deal of intrigue with its amusing snap and even using plenty of thoroughly interesting themes to mold unique, if sometimes unbelievable characters. I won't simply say that most of the film's problems derive simply from questionable ideas, I would consider the film very competent in a lot of ways, with an interesting visual style, convincing performances and even clever writing, all of which carry the potential to carry the final product a long way. The potential of the film in other areas, however, is so lacking that the strengths cannot transcend mediocrity, secured by a questionable style, and even by questionable characterization.
A pretty big novelty in this very naturalist ensemble piece is its focusing primarily on bohemian characters, and I can get behind that just fine maybe more often than not, seeing as how the performances at least provie to be relatively convincing, but there are more than a few times in which the film gets carried away with its intentionally eccentric characterization, being practically annoying at times with its crafting questionable characters, who could perhaps be easier to buy into if they were more fleshed out. The film barely puts any effort into character development, ostensibly because it, trying to cover many, many "stories" in the span of an hour-and-a-half, doesn't have time, switching from character to character, rarely to return, and simply studying on various slices of life, with no real focal consistency, just a meandering string of happenings. The film is utterly aimless in its going all over the place, yet ending up heading nowhere, because no matter how uneven the structure of the film is, it at least keeps consistent in natural shortcomings that limit potential through minimalism, exacerbated by an even more questionable medium for its story concept, or rather, subject matter. Almost in the vein of Linklater's debut, "It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books", this film has a basic concept as a portrait of eccentricity, but no real narrative, having a whole lot more substance than the near-unwatchably unfocused "Learn to Plow", but overstylized as a deliberately structureless abuse of an artistic license. The basic "storytelling" style concept of this film is aggravating enough on its own, and it seriously doesn't help that Linklater isn't even realized in the extent to which he experiments, having plenty of times in which he focuses on genuinely entertaining writing like he did with something along the lines of the at least more fleshed out "Before" trilogy, before jerking into the same artistically overblown, substanceless nonsense that destroyed "Learn to Plow". Not even the film's sloppy style is consistent, but really, what ultimately secures the final product as not even as compelling as the "Before" trilogy is its at least keeping consistent in dullness, challenged by clever writing, but not overpowered, like it ought to be if this effort stands a chance of endearing. The film has a certain something that "Learn to Plow" didn't, and that's highlights, of which there are almost enough to save the film, but only "almost", being ultimately outweighed by enough borderline tedium to its aimlessness to eventually lose effectiveness to its novelty and fall flat as a mediocre artistic misfire that isn't really worth your time.
In conclusion, an immersive visual style, convincing performances and even many clever, if not intelligent highlights in writing all but save the final product as genuinely decent, but under the weight of overly bohemian and undercooked characterization, inconsistent focus, and a questionably minimalist, unevenly handled and all around rather dull experimental structure, Richard Linklater's "Slacker" collapses as an almost generally interesting, but predominantly aggravatingly misguided slice of life affair.
2.25/5 - Mediocre