Written & Directed by Richard Linklater
It seems a little impossible that I’ve gone this far into my life without ever seeing Dazed and Confused, but I’m glad to have finally gotten there before I got too old for its youthful exuberance and rebellious spirit to impress and entertain me. Of course, I am no child of the 70s, and even as timely as this viewing is with Linklater’s “spiritual” follow up, Everybody Wants Some, which takes place at college in the 80s as opposed to the 70s high school life depicted here, I don’t have a connection to either decade or experience, but at the same time, most of us have experienced high school and some of us have also experienced college, so I feel there are connections and correlations to be made, even if the cultural references differ.
The plot for Dazed and Confused is not exactly expansive or impressive, as it follows students on the last day of school, and into the night of partying that ensues. Linklater doesn’t discriminate, showing us soon-to-be Freshmen, soon-to-be Seniors, and even a lingering older guy (Matthew McConaughey) who, despite his growing age, likes how high school chicks stay the same age. Things happen, or they don’t. Relationships blossom, or they don’t, but at the center of the night of debauchery is a rocking and extremely spot on soundtrack which takes the film straight into the 70s, as the only real main focus of the student body for the summer is to get Aerosmith tickets and avoid signing the football coach’s pledge to be a responsible, drug and sex free teenager.
As the film began, I didn’t know what to expect, having somehow avoided anything and everything about this film apart from “Alright, alright, alright.” But I was genuinely worried when the film began at a very lax pace, taking its time to do absolutely nothing. But as I stuck with it, I soon found this laconic pace suited the film, era, characters, and narrative being told by writer director Richard Linklater, whose work has endlessly impressed no matter how ambitious (Boyhood) or romantically epic (Before trilogy). The film unfolds on its own terms, much like the evenings of the characters depicted, and it shows Linklater as a writer/director completely in control of the story he’s telling.
The ensemble cast, which features many soon to be known names, succeeds not just on their talent, but on the prowess of Linklater’s script, which creates relateable, rebellious high school characters, innocent teens who, like all of us, imagine they are the center of the universe with no restrictions and their entire lives ahead of them. They are the masters of their universe, if even just for this one night out of school and out of the house, away from their parents. However sociable or outgoing we were as teenagers, we can all relate to at least one of these characters, which is the charm of the film. And while the ensemble seems perfect, none overshadow the others. Except Matthew McConaughey. Matthew McConaughey overshadows all and owns every scene in which he appears, which is probably why his character is so iconic.
Very early on I knew I would enjoy this film, and I do feel I missed the chance for it to have been a very important film in my life by waiting so long to have seen it. Had I been introduced when I was in high school or college, I imagine its impact would have been greater, but I can recognize a great film when I see one, even if very early on I was comparing it in my head to what American Graffiti was, and how it impacted the cultural film touchstone by essentially pioneering it. Even if Dazed and Confused is in the same vein as American Graffiti, it still stands that it is the singular film to represent adolescence at this point in history, as it succeeds in many of the same ways while still crafting its own story and set of characters with which to connect. Dazed and Confused is an experience film, asking the audience to simply spend time in its world and with its characters. Lucky for us, Richard Linklater makes it a journey well worth taking.