Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Dazed and Confused

Grade : A Year : 1993 Director : Richard Linklater Running Time : 1hr 42min Genre :
Movie review score

It’s weird that this only occurred to me as I watched Richard Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused” for the first time, but I realized in watching it, I don’t think I ever watched what was considered a “teen comedy” or “high school comedy” in my four years in high school. Of course, if I really think back to it, I’d probably find one that I saw, but I so rarely saw movies with my friends in high school that I’m fairly certain that number might have been zero. In addition, the years I was in high school (1992-96) were kind of a down period for the genre, although “Dazed and Confused,” released in 1993, was an exception, to be sure. But most of the best teen comedies either predated those years (“American Graffiti,” “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and John Hughes’s films were all in the rearview mirror) or afterwards (“American Pie” and “Can’t Hardly Wait” came when I was in college), so I’ll be honest, I’m looking at the genre as filmmaking rather than personal nostalgia, and seeing how it is.

“Dazed and Confused” continues my adoration for what Richard Linklater does best as a filmmaker. There are a few films of his I’m not a big fan of (his “Bad News Bears” remake and “A Scanner Darkly” didn’t really land with me, same with “The Newton Boys”), but it’s not really a stretch for me to put him on my list of favorite filmmakers of
all-time. “School of Rock” is a winner for me, and “Bernie” and “Everybody Wants Some!” were solid films from him, but the “Before” trilogy, “Waking Life” and “Boyhood” are all-time greats, and they are formed in the same way “Dazed and Confused” is, and that is through moments. Moments are what shape the characters in these films, they shape the stories of these films, and they shape our memories of the films. When Linklater deals with structured narratives based on traditional plotting, he can be hit-or-miss, but when he lets films breathe, when he lets situations play out, that is where he is one of the great American filmmakers, and you’d be hard-pressed to find people to argue against that point.

“Dazed and Confused” follows multiple characters, and multiple groups of characters, on the last day of school in Austin, Texas in 1976. For seniors, it is their last day of feeling on top of the pecking order in terms of popularity. For juniors, it is their time to assert themselves heading into their last year of high school. And for incoming freshman, they are needing to survive their first hazings as they get ready to matriculate. There are many characters who snap into focus or leave our focus during the movie, which culminates at an end-of-year party in a field with drinking and drugs and the possibilities high school can afford.

I mentioned earlier that I didn’t really go to movies with friends in high school; in point of fact, I didn’t really do much of any socializing in high school. That’s not really true, though. My social life came from marching band. Practice and band trips was where I found most of my deepest high school friendships, some of which continue to this day, even if they are off-and-on, it feels like, due to the rigors of life. But parties, dating, and hanging out with friends away from school is, honestly, not something I did, and truthfully, while there’s a part of me that would have liked to do more than that, I also don’t mind that I missed out on it, either. For me, band was enough. I think this might be why teen comedies also just weren’t my thing- the experiences they depicted were foreign to me, and I didn’t really feel like I was missing out (that was especially true when I found myself at a couple of college parties, and I felt terribly out of place). Maybe that’s why, while I was watching “Dazed and Confused,” I found myself identifying most with Mitch, Wiley Wiggins’s character, who is going to be a freshman, and feels somewhat out of place in the circumstances he finds himself in. A baseball player, he will be hazed by Ben Affleck’s douchebag character, O’Bannion, somehow hanging out with Matthew McConaughey’s Wooderson, who is long out of high school, but still hangs around them because he likes high school girls, and will drink and talk with a girl all night before coming home the next morning, where his mom will question him about the night before, but still afford him this one night of “don’t ask, don’t tell” freedom before coming down hard. I get the feeling watching Mitch lay down on the bed, put his headphones on, and rest after his first “high school experience,” that she won’t have to worry about him- he’s got his head on straight. Wiggins was 16 at the time, and he is completely believable in this role; he would go on to be the dreaming protagonist of Linklater’s “Waking Life” later, but this might be one of my favorite performances of all-time. He captures every beat of the anxiety of matriculating, as well as the relaxing feel of finding people you may belong with, perfectly, and I have a feeling this is the Linklater surrogate role of the film.

“Dazed and Confused” works because of the moments it captures, and the moment it captures for each of its characters. There’s a lot of terrific actors in this, with Affleck, McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, Joey Lauren Adams, Parker Posey, Rory Cochrane and Marissa Ribisi all given some fine moments to play in this film, along with Jason London as Pink, a football hot shot who hates the idea of signing a piece of paper saying that he will not drink or do drugs for the sake of his team. He is really the main character of the film, but I’ll be honest, as much as I love what Linklater does in this film (and the soundtrack he put together is a big part of it- it’s one of the best song soundtracks), London’s character doesn’t really connect with me. I get why Linklater put him front-and-center, and if I’d seen the movie at the time, I might have thought otherwise, but because Wiggins is the character I left loving and being affected by as a viewer, Pink’s dilemma just rang hollow for me. That said, Linklater does a great job keeping me interested in this moment, and I love that I finally experienced it myself.

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