When a filmmaker has a little taste of success, they have more control with your films and may want to try something different. While his first few features (Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise) were not runaway hits, they still got Richard Linklater on people’s radar. With his next batch of flicks, Linklater tried to do something new, but stayed with his old game of plotless films.
SubUrbia centers on a bunch of friends living in — you guessed it — Texas. While Slacker waxed poetically about big ideas and Dazed and Confused captured the essence of a time period, SubUrbia falls flat on trying to achieve either. Jayce Bartok plays a rock star who returns back home and basically chills out with his friends for the length of a movie. Although Linklater’s technical prowess is nothing to scoff at, SubUrbia lacks any glint of personality and the acting falls flat. (2 stars out of 5)
THE NEWTON BOYS (1998)
After his first misfire, a second one followed with The Newton Boys. Matthew McConaughey, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Skeet Ulrich start as Dust Bowl-era bank robbers. The film says very little about its characters and has any real personality to it, which is one of Linklater’s downfalls. He never seems to be afraid of trying new things and working outside of the Hollywood system, but when he tackles films that don’t relate to his sensibilities, you can definitely tell. (3 stars out of 5)
WAKING LIFE (2001)
I always have a level of respect for a filmmaker who tries new things, even if the final result doesn’t exactly hit a home run. That is the category into which Waking Life fits. A lot of Linklater’s films deal with a meditation on life, whether it be a couple walking through Paris and discussing the validity of relationships or a cadre of stoners in Texas trying to figure out what they’re going to do next with their lives.
Waking Life is a series of short vignettes looking at the same pontification and reaffirmation of life, but here’s the kicker: it’s all animated. (Well, technically, it’s rotoscoped – filmed first, then animated overtop to match.) How’s that for a slice of fried gold? The movie looks as if it was dyed everything with pulsating pastels. (3½ stars out of 5)
And lastly, there’s Tape, possibly Linklater’s most forgettable movie. When a filmmaker can pull out a double-whammy in one year, you have to tip your hat to them on some level. But Tape, based on the play by Stephen Belber of the same name and filmed in real time, feels more like an exercise in filmmaking than a genuine movie from Linklater. He’d have been better off not splitting his time between the two and making one masterpiece instead of two simply adequate films. (3 stars out of 5)