'21 Years: Richard Linklater': Film Review

Courtesy of MPRM
A star-filled but unenlightening mash note

Most of the director's best-known collaborators join to sing his praises

At the very end of Michael Dunaway's new film about Richard Linklater, Billy Bob Thornton laughingly says of the famously unassuming director, "Rick doesn't need us to make a documentary about him; he's fine." That's certainly the case when it comes to 21 Years: Richard Linklater, an amiable but wholly unnecessary movie that plays like a feature-length version of those reels one watches while eating rubbery chicken at a banquet honoring a much-loved artist. As deserving as Linklater is of celebration, fans of this restlessly creative cinephile will want to hear more than mere praise. While we wait for a more probing film, this one would work best as a bonus disc in a Blu-ray box of his features.

As if worried that he needs to hook viewers, Dunaway skips over Linklater's 1991 breakthrough Slacker (not to mention its obscure predecessor It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books) to start with a 15-minute discussion of the crowd-pleasing Dazed & Confused. Matthew McConaughey offers the most enjoyable on-set memories here, and throughout the doc will (along with Ethan Hawke) come closest to conveying a sense of what Linklater is like as a man.

But Dunaway's questions don't really seem pointed in that direction, or toward shedding light on his filmmaking practice. Though veterans of Linklater's films — including Keanu Reeves and Julie Delpy — occasionally offer tidbits about the easygoing vibe on his sets, more often they say things any other fan might, admiring the filmmaker's warmth toward his characters, his insistence on trying new genres on for size and the serious mind that hides behind that modest, shrugging demeanor.

Linklater himself isn't interviewed here, nor is anyone who has worked on his crews. Younger directors, including the Duplass Brothers, Kevin Smith and Jason Reitman, establish the power Slacker had to convince people they, too, could become filmmakers. Here again, the focus is on gratitude and admiration rather than insight into Linklater's doggedly eclectic career.

Discussions of some films are lumped together in puzzling ways (what do Bad News Bears and A Scanner Darkly have to do with each other?), while such outings as SubUrbia are ignored entirely. Least understandable is the omission of Waking Life, which prior to Boyhood stood as Linklater's most audacious experiment — and one whose dreamy introspection and Slacker-like appreciation for oddball points of view has much to say about Linklater's art.

Production companies: Gravitas Ventures, Wood Entertainment, Gasoline Films

Production companies: Gravitas Ventures, Wood Entertainment, Gasoline Films Director: Michael Dunaway Producers: Michael Dunaway, Tara Wood, Melanie Miller Executive producers: Nolan Gallagher, Michael Murphy, Pamela Sutton, Robert C. McGirr, Mario Davila, William Pedroza, Norman Gregory McGuire Director of photography: Aaron Brown Editor: Jeremy Ward Music: Graham Reynolds   No rating, 78 minutes
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