“He kinda has to create another world to express how he feels about this one,” enthuses Boyhood star Ellar Coltrane of director Richard Linklater during the procession of admiring quotes that opens Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny, the third recent release to offer a peek into the life of the Texan filmmaker and the second to do so in the style of a conventional expository documentary. Such an awe-strikingly general statement (about what director could this not be said?) isn’t exactly a surprise from a young actor, but it’s also not really the kind of sound bite that primes a viewer to expect critical rigor, and in placing it right at the head of their film, directors Louis Black and Karen Bernstein set an unfortunate precedent that’s seldom surpassed. In fact, Coltrane’s quote isn’t even the flimsiest inclusion: At one point, longtime Linklater editor Sandra Adair declares that “he knows his characters so well and he understands the kinds of films he’s making.”
It’s hard to know what to point to with regard to the cause of these inclusions: inadequate questioning during interview slots, or a rushed, cavalier edit job? In any case, though it corrects the central offense of the dismal 21 Years: Richard Linklater, which was to scrub away any intellectual pedigree from its talking-heads lineup in favor of pandering to preconceived ideas about the director, Dream Is Destiny ends up being nearly as bereft of investigative depth as that film because of Black and Bernstein’s knack for extracting the least out of their promising participants. Take Kent Jones, who’s become somewhat of a go-to these days in documentary studies of contemporary auteurs, yet he only musters up faint praise of Linklater’s adaptability, and a tangential assessment of 2006’s A Scanner Darkly as “underrated,” leaving one to wonder what kind of elaborations may have existed from the great American critic prior to post-production streamlining.
While it starves for analytical thoroughness, though, Dream Is Destiny does benefit from an easy firsthand affection and a sense of biographical color that stand in stark contrast to the opportunistic fandom of 21 Years. Black, a longtime Austinite who made an appearance in Linklater’s 1991 film Slacker and who held a formative role in the Austin Film Society, lets his hometown pride show in the doc’s disproportionate emphasis on Linklater’s blossoming in the local DIY environment, a passage bolstered by anecdotal contributions from Slacker crew members, and a plethora of rare archival material that Black’s centrality in the culture seemingly granted him access to—fuzzy video footage, for instance, of Rick and friends chumming around in some back room of the aforementioned film society. There’s also an illuminating scene in which Linklater addresses his personal budgeting in his early days as an aspiring filmmaker, a recollection that offers stray insights into Austin rent prices and film stock accessibility in the late ’80s.
Even as this devotion to the Central Texas scene leans occasionally into a snobby assertion of Austin as a self-evidently superior alternative to Los Angeles or New York City in terms of indie filmmaking (arguable at best), it’s clearly where Dream Is Destiny’s most resonant investment lies, because the film is woefully lacking when performing its career-overview duties. The structure is roughly chronological, though many of the film-to-film segues are stop-on-a-dime abrupt, with grand, unfounded claims from enthusiastic commentators consequently left to dissipate without embellishment. Other times, the filmmakers include vexing asides or unsatisfying jumps in the timeline of Linklater’s career; they can’t seem to decide, for instance, on whether to build toward a Boyhood or an Everybody Wants Some!! climax, and the behind-the-scenes snippets from both films that are sprinkled throughout feel intrusive as a result. Dream Is Destiny is a reasonably pleasant diversion for the Linklater devotee, but mostly it’s just more of what we’ve come to expect from his expanded fanverse: more red-faced Ethan Hawke endorsements, more nostalgic run-throughs of the director’s iconic scenes, and still so little attention to the granular details of his work.