Taking a third glance backward here, and it isn’t the pretty sight it once was, not at all, but the gleaming iridescence of Linklater’s greatest works will always shine bright enough to create a fond attitude of sentimental warmth, one that will never truly dissipate, no matter how many stinkers, blunders, or cliche-ridden spectacles are forced out. The nostalgic vision of a potent director will always stand tall. Here I froth with forgiveness for everything that I feel cheated me of a favorite director, and look forward with hope and desire to the future, with the same everlasting confidence and optimism of 1996.
‘Bad News Bears’ (2005)
Bad News Bears is the first truly bad Richard Linklater film. I say this almost with a slight cadence of affection, because Bad News Bears isn’t horrible. It’s not a Movie 43 or a Meet the Spartans. It just exists, and it shouldn’t, there was never any need for an uninspired stock film adhering to the cliches that have been long yawned at. It’s a lukewarm thud that even the diehard Linklater fans of the moment turned away at the door. Has he become a director who now makes films for a fun time, rather than a director who makes film to have their voice heard? Whilst I’m not promoting an immediate “No fun allowed, in your beds before 9pm” rule, it’s not the thing I come to buy when I come to this shop. And its existence within Richard Linklater’s oeuvre is the most heart-breaking aspect of it all, to see a director who has a such a proven sober voice, say such commonplace things.
‘Fast Food Nation’ (2006)
Fast Food Nation was the second commonplace thing to fall out of Linklater’s mouth and swiftly after the first no less, his turbulent path in full swing, his voice trembling and nearly completely out of sight. It coalesced with the bitter fans that something had gone wrong somewhere along the line, and that the legs of this tyrant were now so shattered, that they needed to take an indefinite leave to heal and grasp back at what was once so dynamic. Bad News Bears is marginally forgivable, there are endearing moments in the apathetic cliche-ridden landscape of American baseball though most are likely born out of stockholm syndrome, and it’s existence merely for Linklater to have fun isn’t exactly heinous. Fast Food Nation however, in all its cliched abhorrent didacticism, retains none of the above treatment. There is one sequence in the film that works, the only one with Ethan Hawke. The inherent chemistry shows a glimmer of hope, there are just some things that will never ‘unclick’. A film that nobody needed to see, and a film that coming out of Linklater’s mouth seemed alien and absurd, pointless and foreboding.
‘A Scanner Darkly’ (2006)
A Scanner Darkly, a warmly welcomed quality rebound for Linklater, is the second in his filmography to take advantage of rotoscope technology. Why only two of his films take advantage of its magnetic allure is beyond me, but the more startling question is why Linklater seems to be the only “famous” director doing it. I wouldn’t want it becoming a subterfuge like the found-footage genre but I sit here starved for more like many others. In congruous vein to Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly is tumultuously mystical in its jittery and cryptic visual style layered atop its insubordinate characters but this time it’s interwoven in a paranoid dystopian circular narrative with a cryptic cadence. To say the chimerical dream-like visuals are immersive would be a great understatement. The insidious nature of ASD provokes a strange reaction through the film, never too sure if its intentions are to placate or to instill peril, though the third act solidifies the latter, A Scanner Darkly can suffer from the circling road taken yet when looked upon as a whole I tend to smooth over its flaws with simple strokes. A gratifying addition to the Linklater oeuvre, and the one that irrevocable cemented his path as wayward son.
‘Me and Orson Welles’ (2008)
Me and Orson Welles has the sole privilege of being my most despised Linklater film, a film I use as a placeholder to not-so-fondly remember everything that Linklater turned his back on. I am somewhat alone in this accusation however, and it is only my ever-building bitterness that makes me see it through such hate-filled goggles. It’s standing in the general cinematic community is much higher than the one I give it, and it takes not only the badge of being Linklater’s third truly bad film, but the badge—hopefully not temporarily—of being Linklater’s worst film. A film with no Linklater, with no attractive cadence, just a lukewarm mess that attempts very little and says even less. Seeing someone I care about making films like this is invigorates the masochistic side of me and nothing else. A film to conciliate a ravenous popcorn eating audience and be forgotten swiftly after even by them, an apathetic waste.
Bernie is a film that I wanted to like almost too much, seemingly a return to form, a return that would be heartily recognized and the exact revival I wanted to see after Me and Orson Welles. And whilst I like the film I’m decidedly still on the bench of indifference, far enough away from those who love it to not invite me to the annual Bernie-ball, but close enough to still smell the fresh aromatic pies and hear the joyful music of mutual love. It may be the film that is most deserving of a re-visit from me (though most will try to convince me that’s Me and Orson Welles), yet even in nostalgic remembrance of its sincerity and crooked altruism I see nothing that truly marks it as a film that can transcend to the next level. The dynamism is no longer present, but the terms of endearment I have vowed towards Linklater remain in such a powerful position that it still wallows in a concoction of neutral and positive light, much like The Newton Boys.
I doubt I was the only one who upon hearing that a third installment to the Before series was on its way was struck with a flurry of anxiety of fearful apprehension at the thought of Linklater screwing up the series, a series that up to this point had remained perpetually perfect. I think it is a fair trait to be afraid of this film. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it burned in one. Linklater’s largely unadorned 00s output disappointed most principally because of the promise emanating from his early career, a promise that whilst in totality remains unfilled, yet a promise that dug its claws so deep into this series that it never let go, and still being in the midst of lackluster expendables something that inspires an optimistic clairvoyance rather than foreboding. A year ago if you’d have asked me if I wanted a sequel to Before Sunset I’d have told you where to put the script. Now, I’ve my seatbelt on, my laces tight, my gastank full, and ready for the next five. “We will be 98”. We’re in it for the long haul now, and I’ll be damned if I let you burn it to the ground.
‘Before Midnight’ (2013)
It’s the most ferocious of the trilogy, and comes off all the more stronger because of its bitter veracity. I’d avoided all information about this as to embrace the cleanest entry possible but one thing I knew is it would be a decidedly acerbic addition with a fraction of the chimerical idealism of its predecessors. A camera angle from a different side, the fantastical portrayal of youthful love lay bedridden, what remains is a shattered portrayal of what was once idealized, instead appears something unexpected and unfounded. Paths remain unclear, yet the romanticism seeps through, in dribs and droves, ultimately culminating in the same infinite poetic charm that has given the series such triumphant lasting impact. The sheer lack of falsity has moved some to call it a horror film over a romance. It will be interpreted as a fearful aura of inexorably deteriorating love, though in nine years time and until the end of his time, Linklater is going to quell anxieties with an incessantly implacable fine stroke of romanticism. You can’t escape, you don’t want to.
So here is the future of a wayward man, the only things on the horizon now are the unavoidable continuation of Before Midnight and 2014’s Boyhood. The story of boyhood follows the boy for twelve years, from first grade at age six through 12th grade at age eighteen, filmed in real time over the past 12 years. From these two gleaming elements, despite the perturbation and commotion spurned forth from a meandering a career, the future can’t help but still seem as fatalistically bright as it once was. Isn’t it pretty to think so?