Playing more like a distended awards show package than a proper documentary, 21 Years: Richard Linklater reflects on the first half of its title subject’s directorial career. Directors Michael Dunaway and Tara Wood gather Linklater players and admirers to muse on the experience of working with the Austinite and the sensibility that he’s brought to bear across a diverse but startlingly coherent body of work.
To the extent that the release of Before Midnight and this year’s Boyhood (mentioned only briefly here) prompted a reconsideration of that body, the assessments offered in 21 Years manage to feel like too little arriving a little late. Still, there is pleasure to be had in the reminiscences of Jack Black, Ethan Hawke, Keanu Reeves, and the much-indulged Matthew McConaughey on their “sneaky Shakespeare.”
The notion that Linklater is more tricky than he seems recurs: Calm and a spirit of collaboration belie his near-complete control on set; an interest in the ephemeral, the subaltern, the engaged-but-aimless has deflected from the director’s highly developed thematic and aesthetic drives.
We might blame Slacker for that: A true relic of its time, the title of Linklater’s debut only grows more ironic, and its announcement of a pioneering vision more earnest.