Review: 21 Years: Richard Linklater

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

PLOT: In this look back at the films of Richard Linklater, several familiar faces give their insight and praise to somebody who may very well be one of the most chill – and yes, talented – filmmakers just outside the Hollywood system.

REVIEW: 21 YEARS: RICHARD LINKLATER is an unabashedly adoring love letter to the director of such films as BEFORE SUNRISE, DAZED AND CONFUSED and the recent BOYHOOD. It is a heartfelt tribute to a man who has made a career out of telling personal and compelling stories, some of which are inspired by his own experiences of living in Austin. His films tell very funny and oftentimes powerful tales of vastly different characters, many of whom seem to represent people we all know in some way shape or form. And much like the filmmaker himself, both 21 YEARS co-writing and directing team Michael Dunaway and Tara Wood do so in a thoughtful, yet entertaining manner.

While 21 YEARS may seem to be simply a talking head documentary, it does so with very candid interviews with a number of actors in a charming way. Keanu Reeves, Matthew McConaughey, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Jack Black and Zac Efron – love the RETURN OF THE JEDI shirt – and many others share insight on their personal experiences or memories of the acclaimed director. Of course not a single ill-will is spread, yet you have to wonder watching this if there is a bad word that can be spoken about him. Many of the stories are so very telling of exactly why so many of these famous faces continue to work with him.

Seeing so many of these actors speak so lovingly about the man they refer to as “Rick” is wonderfully endearing. And even more than a little inspiring. Reeves and McConaughey seem to have the most fun, especially the later who pleasantly relives his “Alright, alright, alright…” line of dialogue from DAZED AND CONFUSED that has become such an iconic bit of cinema. Reeves – who appeared in A SCANNER DARKLY – offers up an enlightening and energetic couple of moments describing working with Linklater, and frankly he is really funny here.

As much fun as this trip down memory lane may be, it is almost too short and sweet. Running just under eighty minutes, separated by films, it feels like there is more to the story. What we do not see is a final interview with Linklater himself. His on-screen moment in SLACKER is offered up as are a few behind the scenes shots, but nothing more than that. With all the praise heaped on him, 21 YEARS eventually feels incomplete. Clearly Dunaway and Wood wanted the focus to be on those around him and inspired by him – including Kevin Smith along with Mark and Jay Duplass – but it would have been nice to hear a little from the subject himself.

Even without hearing from Linklater, it is hard to come away from 21 YEARS without a bit of a happy nostalgic feeling. With focus on BEFORE SUNRISE, BEFORE SUNSET, BEFORE MIDNIGHT, DAZED AND CONFUSED, SLACKER, BERNIE, THE NEWTON BOYS, SCHOOL OF ROCK, ME AND ORSON WELLES, THE BAD NEWS BEARS, A SCANNER DARKLY, it is hard not to be taken in by this impressive selection of his work. Although I would have loved to have heard a little more from the cast of one of my favorites, SubUrbia, there is enough here to please fans who have watched the filmmaker continually progress.

As an admirer of Richard Linklater, it is impossible not to be a bit dazzled by this tribute. And what great memories we are given, for me personally, the “BEFORE TRILOGY” and DAZED AND CONFUSED are some of the most exciting cinematic moments I’ve experienced. What makes it all work? Well this feature explores that question, if only too briefly. The admiration Dunaway and Wood – as well as those interviewed – have for “Rick” is downright contagious. While 21 YEARS feels slightly lacking, it still inspires one to go through their movie collection and re-watch the director’s work.


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JimmyO is one of’s longest-tenured writers, with him reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities since 2007 as the site’s Los Angeles correspondent.