Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny (2016) ☆☆☆(3/4): A modest tribute to Linklater

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To be frank with you, it took some years for me to become familiar with the works of Richard Linklater. When I happened to watch “School of Rock” (2003) around 2004, I did not pay much attention to its director, but then there came “Before Sunset” (2004), and I belatedly watched “Before Sunrise” (1995) before watching “Before Sunset”. Since that point, I watched most of his subsequent films, and I was certainly delighted by “Bernie” (2011), “Before Midnight” (2013), and, yes, “Boyhood” (2014).

That is why I enjoyed documentary film “Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny”, a modest tribute to Linklater’s illustrious filmmaking career. As broadly looking around many of his works, the film shows and tells us how Linklater has steadily advanced in his career as shrewdly balancing himself between artistry and pragmatism, and it surely confirms to us that he is one of the most distinctive filmmakers working in US.

With the interview clips between Linklater and co-director Louis Black (he is the founder of the Austin Chronicle and one of the founders of the SXSW Film Festival, by the way) functioning as its narrative scaffold, the documentary looks at Linklater’s early years first. As spending his childhood years in Huntsville, Texas, young Linklater read a lot of books, and that tendency of his was continued during his college years. While he went to his college via an athlete scholarship, he could not play baseball due to an injury, so he came to spend most of his resulting free time at the college library, and that further boosted his longtime aspiration to be a writer.

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After working at an oil rig for a while, Linklater moved to Austen, and then he became interested in making movies. After making a couple of short films, he came to make his first feature film “Slacker” (1991), and he was fortunately at the right time and the right place for that. As suffering the end of an economic boom during the 1980s, Austen provided many free empty places where he and his friends could shoot their low-budget movie, and, as you probably remember, the 1990s was the golden age of American independent movies. As praised by many critics including late Roger Ebert, “Slacker” drew considerable attention when it was released in theaters, and Linklater became a new young talent to watch while also inspiring other young filmmakers including Kevin Smith. As he frankly tells us in his interview clip, Smith came to realize that he could his own things just like Linklater after watching “Slacker”, and that led to “Clerks” (1994), another notable debut feature film during the 1990s.

After the critical success of “Slacker”, Linklater attempted to go up with “Dazed and Confused” (1993), which was his first major studio film. Although this sophomore work received a fair share of praises and then has gained more reputation since its theatrical release, it did not succeed as much as he hoped, and he was not particularly happy with how the Universal Studio advertised the film. Nevertheless, he soon moved onto his next project, and that was none other than “Before Sunset” (1995), which eventually became the first chapter of the Before Trilogy. During their respective interview clips, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, the two stars of the Before Trilogy, tell us how much they enjoyed working together with Linklater, and that reminds us again of how special this trilogy is as a vivid, intimate portrayal of romance.

Linklater’s career took another downturn due to the critical and commercial failure of “The Newton Boys” (1998), but it came to bounce again through “Waking Life” (2001) and “Tape” (2001). I have not watched the latter yet, but I can tell you that the former is a dreamy stream of thoughts and feelings vividly and strikingly presented via rotoscoping animation, and I have been considering revisiting it someday for appreciating its many engaging moments more.

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After the success of “School of Rock” and “Before Sunset”, Linklater seemed to go down again with “A Scanner Darkly” (2006) and “Fast Food Nation” (2006). While I was intrigued by its science fiction story premise and enjoyed its rotoscoping animation, “A Scanner Darkly” was less impressive compared to “Waking Life”, and “Fast Food Nation” is still a disappointing misstep to me as far as I remember.

Linklater soon returned with better works to notice. Although it was not a commercial success, “Me and Orson Welles” (2008) is an overlooked gem you should watch, and the same thing can be said about “Bernie”, a quirky black comedy film which has one of the best performances in Jack Black’s career. In case of “Before Midnight”, it was certainly another pinnacle for Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy, and watching it at a local movie theater was one of my best movie experiences in 2013.

And there was “Boyhood”, a sublime coming-of-age drama which will be remembered as one of great films coming out from this decade. Linklater and the producers of the movie tell us how difficult it was to finance their small but ambitious project. While lead actor Ellar Coltrane grew over 12 years, Linklater shot the movie bit by bit along with his crew and cast, and there was considerable risk and uncertainty during this long production process. As the movie was completed, the producers clearly saw that Linklater succeeded in making something quite extraordinary, and it was not only a masterpiece but also the culmination of Linklater’s career.

Although it could have delved deeper into its subject, “Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny” is engaging on the whole as doing a solid job of summarizing Linklater’s career. After the enormous success of “Boyhood”, Linklater promptly moved onto “Everybody Wants Some!!” (2016), and now his latest film “Last Flag Flying” (2017) is going to be released in US this year. He still keeps going as usual, and it will be really interesting to see where he will go next.

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