21 Years: Richard Linklater (2014)
★★ / ★★★★
Richard Linklater has always been one of my favorite directors probably because his film, “Before Sunset,” made a big impression on me when at the time when I was still trying to figure out the kind of stories I would be willing to invest my time in. When that film ended, I remember feeling excited, maybe even inspired, because I had not seen anything quite like it.
Michael Dunaway and Tara Wood’s “21 Years: Richard Linklater” is an entertaining and informative documentary about Linklater’s films up to “Before Midnight” but because it attempts to cover as much ground as possible and as quickly as possible, it does not feel cohesive. In addition, some of the interviews come across as pandering rather than as a true celebration of an artist whose works helped to shape the landscape of independent cinema.
The picture is divided into sections. For example, “Daze and Confused” gets about ten to fifteen minutes of discussion. There are other instances, however, when two films are combined into one section like “The Newton Boys” and “Bernie.” Although the technique makes sense because the discussions aim to highlight Linklater’s fascination with lovable losers or criminals, the connections between such films are few.
Interviewees are performers such as Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, and Ethan Hawke as well as directors that range from Mark Duplass to Jason Reitman. While there is no shortage of personality, eventually it begins to feel like the same people are being asked the same types of questions. While the energy in front of the camera is appreciated, one wonders about the other aspects of the director’s techniques. He is often labelled as having a very relaxed approach to making his films but how does that work necessarily when his projects are so different from one another?
The material is at its best when it provides information we do not already know. For instance, Jack Black admits that “School of Rock” is his first time really working with kids and he was concerned about having to do so. One might not have guessed that because his character has such a strong connection with the children. Also, I enjoyed moments when the documentary takes the time to underline important scenes in movies like “Before Sunrise,” particularly the scene where Jesse and Celine go inside a listening booth and genuinely connect in a place of quiet.
“21 Years: Richard Linklater” has a playfulness about it that is endearing but that same quality gets in the way at times. It needed to ask tougher questions, maybe even provide information about the subject growing up, his past and current influences, the challenges he had to overcome to create films that will stand the test of time. Overall, I liked the subject more than the film itself.