Ok, right off the bat: the new animation styles used in Waking Life are indeed quite fascinating...for about 15 minutes. Not since The Blair Witch Project has a motion picture seemed so intent on capturing the illusion of seasickness.Waking Life is seemingly being championed just for having a brain in its head. Unfortunately, a movie needs to have more than just a few lofty concepts and a box of crayons to make it a good MOVIE. The overall effect of Waking Life is that of finally escaping a cocktail party full of ecstasy-laden philosophy students.
The plot (and that's me being kind) follows an unnamed character on a journey through several layers of his dream world. Littered throughout the fantasy land is a nonstop gaggle of trippy intellectual types, coffee-house philosophers and self-important blatherers. I'm not saying these people don't know what they're talking about. I'm saying that they didn't actually TEACH me anything.
Imagine 25 consecutive conversations about existentialist philosophy, cultural anthropology and basically anything else that can be described as "brainy and abstract". While a handful of the monologues actually manage to connect with the viewer, it's only a few seconds before we segue into something else arcane and pointless.
Praise is due to Richard Linklater for trying something new and experimental, but there's absolutely no reason this movie has to feel like such a belabored and 'deeper-than-thou' collection of grad school psycho-babble. Of course, I'd rather have 15 movies like Waking Life than the Hollywood flotsam that was Linklater's previous project (The Newton Boys). If Linklater turned this movie in as a Philosophy 101 assignment, his professor would be very impressed. Unfortunately, I (much like millions of moviegoers) am not a philosophy professor.
Like it or not, a movie has to have some small semblance of a PLOT to succeed. I'm all for deep philosophical ruminations and intellectual banter, but there has to be an actual movie to support it. Much like hearing the details of someone else's dream, Waking Life comes across as somewhat interesting, intermittently entertaining and (when the storyteller rambles on for 90+ minutes) ultimately quite irritating.I realize that the "trippy animation" is meant to convey a dream-like state and all that jazz, but one has to wonder: Without the animation gimmick, is there any WAY in the universe that such a ponderous, navel-gazing movie would ever be released? Not even in a dream.