Directed by Richard Linklater. Starring a cast of hundreds. (1991, R, 97 min.)
REVIEWED By Chris Walters, Fri., July 5, 1991
Slacker: The title of Richard Linklater's stroll through a day in the lives of a hundred-odd Austin limbo dwellers started as a joke shared by the first-time director and his tireless, unpaid crew -- “Get to work, you slacker!” -- and grew into a code word for the world the movie describes, the term that summed it up best. Few of the many films shot in Austin over the past 10 or 15 years even attempt to make something of the way its citizens live. Slacker is the only one I know of that claims this city's version of life on the margins of the working world as its whole subject, and it is one of the first American movies ever to find a form so apropos to the themes of disconnectedness and cultural drift. No plot, no major characters, no suspense: just fleeting glimpses of bohemia in its twilight phase. Linklater inverts the basic motif behind almost every Hollywood narrative -- ordinary people in extraordinary situations -- and composes his movie entirely from incidental scenes, most of which would barely rate as background in a standard drama. Fluid transitions and long takes are crucial to the success of this narrative strategy, and thanks to tracking shots the likes of which are seldom seen in ultra-low budget features, most of them come off superbly. Some of them even turn into effective aesthetic tropes, as when a woman from India (Gina Lalli) who is talking about her country to a friend stops in mid-stride and announces that the next passerby will be dead in a fortnight. Along comes an average joe (Frank Orrall, one of an army of non-actors who turn in fine performances), loping down the street without a care in the world. Within minutes he is foiled by a newspaper vending machine and verbally assaulted by lunatics in a breakfast bar, suggesting that a black cloud really does follow him around. The last we know of him is the off-camera sound of a car skidding to a halt at the place where he just stepped into the street. The movie buries its treasures in the crevasses of its drollery and craziness. Nothing in the current climate is more permissible than mock-futility as a sign of endurance and mourns the passing of time by marking it with emblems of affection and empathy; the only prizes worth having. [Ed. Note: Since this review first ran in the summer of 1990, Slacker has been picked up for national distribution, blown up to 35mm and fine tuned in a few places. The new prints are impressive and we fully expect to start hearing the word slacker entering into America's everyday vocabulary.