Dazed and Confused (1993) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive drug use, sexuality some violence, and language
Running Time: 103 min.
Cast: Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, Rory Cochrane, Sasha Jenson, Cole Hauser, Michelle Burke, Ben Affleck, Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, Matthew McConaughey, Joey Lauren Adams, Christin Hinojosa, Parker Posey, Marissa Ribisi, Milla Jovovich, Shawn Andrews, Jason O. Smith, Deena Martin, Nicky Katt, Renee Zellweger (cameo)
Director: Richard Linklater
Screenplay: Richard Linklater
Review published January 9, 2007
While watching Richard Linklater's (Before Sunset, The School of Rock) semi-autobiographical homage to his high school days in Dazed and Confused, it's almost impossible not to think about another film that similarly captured the essence of a time and place for teenagers in an older era, George Lucas's American Graffiti. In many ways, the films are linked, not only due to the similar structures and styles, but that they also bookend the Vietnam era for American youth, with the older film taking place as we were just on the verge of the national and international tumult that marked the 1960s, while the other depicts the aftermath. Whereas American Graffiti featured a group of teens that seemed to know and embrace what was to be expected of them, though they were a bit naive as to how complicated that would be, the kids in Dazed and Confused only know that the only thing they didn't want to do was what was expected, as they rejected parental guidance, school rules, and the local authorities in the quest for finding their own identity among their peer group, mostly out of sheer boredom.
The setting is a rural Texas town in 1976, on the last day of school. The graduating seniors are hazing the incoming freshmen, while the rest of the regulars get ready to party until dawn. Some of the younger teens are shown the ropes by the more popular, older kids, while the never-ending quest to get laid and get high are on the agenda for those about to go to college. Beer runs, mailbox vandalism, and fistfights are but some of the rites of passage for those about to move on from their social positions.
One of the first things you'll notice about Dazed and Confused is the amount of future stars that are part of the cast. The film would mark early prominent roles for such up-and-comers as Matthew McConaughey (Lone Star, Edtv), Ben Affleck (Mallrats, Chasing Amy), Cole Hauser (Good Will Hunting, Pitch Black), Adam Goldberg (Saving Private Ryan, According to Spencer), Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element, He Got Game), and Parker Posey (Party Girl, The Daytrippers), to name but a few (Look close for a young Renee Zellweger in a non-speaking role during the party in the park). It also solidified the career of writer-director Richard Linklater as a force to be reckoned with, handling such an ambitious project with a variety of personalities, putting forth a heavy emphasis on authenticity, and pulling it off seamlessly (who knew that there are people that actually remember the 1970s??)
Despite the relative inexperience of Linklater and his sizable cast, Dazed and Confused still flows by with finesse, despite the loose structure and lack of a central plot. Momentum is achieved through a series of intersecting interactions, excellent characterizations, and good young character actors -- sometimes it's fun just to listen and observe their conversations and observations. Although there are a few serious moments, Linklater does do wise to keep things simple, not trying for an ending with an overreaching dramatic payoff, as other similar films have done. It stays fun and irreverent throughout.
Dazed and Confused isn't really a traditional coming-of-age film, or even a definitive testament on its generation, but it does effectively capture many of the prevailing attitudes of the era, in fashion, music, and the rampant social irresponsibility. It's funny, insightful, and a sure hit for those who grew up during that tumultuous era, where the only thing to look forward to was the next hit.
©2007 Vince Leo