In 2012, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Slacker is a uniquely structured and seemingly plotless film, following a single day in the life of an ensemble of mostly under-30 bohemians and misfits in Austin, Texas. The film follows various characters and scenes, never staying with one character or conversation for more than a few minutes before picking up someone else in the scene and following them. The characters include Linklater as a talkative taxi passenger, a UFO buff who insists the U.S. has been on the moon since the 1950s, a JFK conspiracy theorist, an elderly anarchist who befriends a man trying to rob his house, a serial television set collector, and a hipster woman trying to sell a Madonna pap smear. The woman selling the pap smear appears on the film poster, and was played by Butthole Surfers drummer Teresa Taylor. Most of the characters grapple with feelings of social exclusion or political marginalization, which are recurring themes in their conversations. They discuss social class, terrorism, joblessness, and government control of the media.Richard Linklater as "Should Have Stayed at the Bus Station"
Rudy Basquez as Taxicab Driver
Mark James as "Hit-and-Run Son"
Bob Boyd as Officer Bozzio
Terrence Kirk as Officer Love
Stella Weir as Stephanie from Dallas
Teresa Taylor as Pap Smear Pusher
Mark Harris as T-shirt Terrorist
Frank Orrall as "Happy Go-Lucky Guy"
Abra Moore as "Has Change"
Louis Black as Paranoid Paper Reader
Sarah Harmon as "Has Faith in Groups"
John Slate as Conspiracy-A-Go-Go author
Lee Daniel as GTO
Louis Mackey as Old Anarchist
Scott Rhodes as Disgruntled Grad Student
Kim Krizan as "Questions Happiness"
Athina Rachel Tsangari as Cousin from Greece (credited as Rachel Reinhardt)
Slacker's working title was No Longer/Not Yet. The film was shot in 1989 with a 16 mm Arriflex camera on location in Austin, Texas with a budget of $23,000, and premiered at Austin's Dobie Theater on July 27, 1990. Orion Classics acquired Slacker for nationwide distribution, and released a slightly modified 35mm version on July 5, 1991. It did not receive a wide release but went on to become a cult film bringing in a domestic gross of $1,228,108. The cast includes many notable Austinites, including Louis Black, Abra Moore, and members of some local bands of the era.
Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars and wrote, "Slacker is a movie with an appeal almost impossible to describe, although the method of the director, Richard Linklater, is as clear as day. He wants to show us a certain strata of campus life at the present time". In his review for The New York Times, Vincent Canby wrote, "Slacker is a 14-course meal composed entirely of desserts or, more accurately, a conventional film whose narrative has been thrown out and replaced by enough bits of local color to stock five years' worth of ordinary movies".
Entertainment Weekly gave the film an "A-" rating and Owen Gleiberman wrote, "Slacker has a marvelously low-key observational cool ... the movie never loses its affectionate, shaggy-dog sense of America as a place in which people, by now, have almost too much freedom on their hands". In his review for the Washington Post, Hal Hinson wrote, "This is a work of scatterbrained originality, funny, unexpected and ceaselessly engaging". Rolling Stone magazine's Peter Travers wrote, "What Linklater has captured is a generation of bristling minds unable to turn their thoughts into action. Linklater has the gift of a true satirist: He can make laughter catch in the throat".
In his review for the Austin Chronicle, Chris Walters wrote, "Few of the many films shot in Austin over the past 10 or 15 years even attempt to make something of the way its citizens live. Slacker is the only one I know of that claims this city's version of life on the margins of the working world as its whole subject, and it is one of the first American movies ever to find a form so apropos to the themes of disconnectedness and cultural drift". Time magazine's Richard Corliss wrote, "Though set in the '90s, Slacker has a spirit that is pure '60s, and in this loping, loopy, sidewise, delightful comedy, Austin is Haight-Ashbury".
American Film Institute recognition:AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs - Nominated
Slacker was released on VHS in June 1992 by Orion Home Video. An estimated 7,000 copies were shipped. A book also titled Slacker containing the screenplay, interviews, and writing about the film was published by St. Martin's Press, also in 1992. The film was re-released on VHS on March 7, 2000, by MGM. The film was released to DVD worldwide on January 13, 2003. A two-disc Criterion Collection boxed-set edition was released on August 31, 2004, in the USA and Canada only. The set has many "extras", including a book on the film and Linklater's first feature film, It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, released on home video for the first time. Entertainment Weekly gave this edition an "A-" rating.
The release of the film is often taken as a starting point (along with the earlier Sex, Lies, and Videotape) for the independent film movement of the 1990s. Many of the independent filmmakers of that period credit the film with inspiring or opening doors for them, perhaps most famously Kevin Smith, who has said on numerous occasions that the film was the inspiration for Clerks. The film also popularized the use of "slacker" to describe "a person regarded as one of a large group or generation of young people (especially in the early to mid 1990s) characterized by apathy, aimlessness, and lack of ambition". Linklater, however, has said that he wanted the word to have positive connotations. For example, in a self-interview in the Austin Chronicle, Linklater stated: “Slackers might look like the left-behinds of society, but they are actually one step ahead, rejecting most of society and the social hierarchy before it rejects them. The dictionary defines slackers as people who evade duties and responsibilities. A more modern notion would be people who are ultimately being responsible to themselves and not wasting their time in a realm of activity that has nothing to do with who they are or what they might be ultimately striving for.”