Richard Linklater’s movies get me. Linklater sits amongst a small group of artists who mirror my internal life, the highs and lows of a fortunately stable existence. Not a lot happens in Linklater films: a couple walks along the beach; three old friends reminisce in a motel room; high schoolers drive around. He’s a master of making the banal intimate, and for that he has accrued as much goodwill as any working filmmaker. In anticipation of the release of Everybody Wants Some, his apparent spiritual successor to Dazed and Confused, allow me to investigate why I will never quit Richard Linklater.
Criticism and praise of Linklater’s work both focus on his reluctance to venture outside the small world of romantic, artistically-inclined, white Texans. The man understands himself and the people around whom he grew up to the extent that his own experience and what he puts on film often feel inseparable. In fact, for a time he housed the ex-felon upon whom his film Bernie is based. His consistency of style alternatively makes audiences feel exhausted and affirmed. I cannot separate my growing up a sensitive white boy with little to worry about beyond his own feelings, from my attachment to the Before trilogy, Dazed and Confused and Boyhood.
But that understanding of Linklater’s precision of topic is cynical and does not give him, nor his audience, any credit. Everything Linklater enthusiasts love about him comes back to his overwhelming love for his characters, ones molded out of real people as he has indicated many times in interviews. His ability to render honesty and tenderness clearly emanates from his love of the communities he’s inhabited. Linklater’s body of work stands either as an argument for or against the “write what you know” mantra depending on how you felt about following Ellar Coltrane through a relatively eventless adolescence.
Linklater has a limited sense of adventure and an unusual understanding of scope. He made the most temporally ambitious film in recent memory, yet specializes in intimate works contained in a single day or location. Linklater doesn’t come to you: you have to enter his Austin or Vienna or Houston. He refuses to let characters get left behind or formative moments go unrecognized.
He’s made a career out of small movies that people come to for sweetness and hope. The success of Boyhood offers him another path: to chase grander stories and, as a byproduct, awards. But Linklater has proven fickle in his dedication to coming-of-age tales. The man just loves reenacting teenhood! Few directors have been as invested in a single process over multiple decades as Linklater is in growing up.
Linklater is approaching an age at which most directors start to work less frequently and make films for their kids and grandkids. He can’t reproduce the energy of being young and lost forever, but he shows no signs of quitting.
We need more directors as personal as Linklater. He falls in love with his actors, and without him we wouldn’t have Matthew McConnaghey or Julie Delpy, a reality which I’d prefer not to consider. The Linklater universe of budding photographers, weary environmentalists and charming coroners is among the warmest in the film world. He may get older, but his films stay the same age.