Slacker (1990)

Slacker (1990)

The daddy of all hang-out movies, this DIY ‘90s indie helped launch a movement



United States of America
Comedy, Drama
Athina Rachel Tsangari, Bob Boyd, Charles Gunning
97 min


Before Celine and Jesse, there was Pap Smear Pusher and Bike Rider with Nice Shoes.

What it's about

A freewheeling day spent with the local eccentrics of Austin, Texas.

The take

The walk-and-talk roots of the Before Trilogy are traceable to this low-budget cult movie from writer-director Richard Linklater, which came five years before our first introduction to Celine and Jesse. Rather than follow a single, winding conversation, though, Slacker hops from character to character every few minutes, and we never meet them again. In fact, we rarely even learn their names, which makes the credits a particular pleasure to watch as it identifies cast members with wry monikers like “Dostoyevsky wannabe,” “Ultimate loser,” and “Scooby Doo philosopher.”

Shot in Linklater’s adopted hometown of Austin, Texas, the movie captures the city’s uniquely alternative vibe — or, as one character succinctly puts it, “This town has always had its share of crazies.” Conversations range from the spaced-out to the flat-out paranoid, a fair amount of the movie’s ragtag band being partial to conspiracy theories, from the well-worn (JFK's death) or the more bizarre (the real meaning behind The Smurfs). With its freewheeling approach to narrative, Slacker shares the lovable weirdness of its characters, as attested to by its enduring status as a cult classic.

What stands out

From a creative point of view, the way Slacker remains so engaging despite its lack of an overarching storyline or single protagonist is a source of great inspiration, as evidenced by the huge influence it had on the American independent film movement of the ‘90s. In flitting from one character to the next for the entirety of its runtime, it defies all conventional wisdom about screenwriting. Everyone here gets equal time in the spotlight; it’s not so much a fly-on-the-wall movie as a fly-on-the-shoulder one, buzzing from one perspective to the next with equal interest in the inane ramblings, mundane conversations, or genuinely insightful discussions they engage in. For viewers, the radical Slacker generously provides a singular experience, one in which every possible idle curiosity that might occur to us about all the people we see on screen is satisfied.


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