It’s a pretty good time to be Richard Linklater. In spite of the odd post-Oscar backlash haters who greeted the admittedly hyperbolic praise of his intimate epic “Boyhood” with vitriolic jeers, the picture has done quite well and will, I suspect, endure over time. Then there’s “Everybody Wants Some”, his upcoming baseball film that’s supposed to be a “spiritual sequel” to his high school saga “Dazed and Confused”, and is sure to be something special. For those of you in need of a Linklater fix, however, we have something interesting for you today.
“$5.15”, a bare-bones comedy pilot from the director that was produced back in 2004 but was ultimately passed over by HBO, has recently found its way online. It’s a warm, well-observed, very funny bit of small-scale storytelling that boasts many of the independent titan’s favored motifs, themes and obsessions. The title “$5.15” refers to the minimum wage afforded to the strange employees of Grammaw’s Home Cookin’, a fictional family restaurant that will look all too familiar to anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in the American South or Midwest. As is the custom with Linklater, there’s not much plot to speak of: we simply hang out with the Grammaw’s staff, including the peppy, can-do night manager, a devoutly Christian waitress, the shit-talking fry cooks and a deadbeat redneck who’s late for work as the episode begins.
There’s not many familiar faces in the cast (unless you count the elderly hotel clerk from “No Country for Old Men” who almost becomes a victim of Anton Chigurgh) but that lack of star power adds to the episode’s modest charm and its unforced sense of naturalism. There are shades of the director’s uneven adaptation of Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation” here, although “$5.15” lacks that book/film’s sense of righteous political anger, and there are also similarities to the more broad and vulgar restaurant-based comedy “Waiting”. Still, this is all Linklater and that’s very much alright, alright, alright with us. The filmmaker has lost none of his skill at depicting bemusing, fascinatingly odd slices of small-town life: a gift he has displayed a knack for since his epochal debut “Slacker” and one he still possesses today.
Check out “$5.15” in its entirety below. No word on if there are any plans to turn Linklater’s pilot into something more (it seems unlikely at this point), but it’s a fun watch nonetheless.