At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Dazed and Confused “92”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Comedy/ Stars: Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, Sasha Jenson, Michelle Burke, Christine Harnos, Rory Cochrane, Ben Affleck, Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, Marissa Ribisi, Matthew McConaughey, Shawn Andrews, Cole Hauser, Milla Jovovich, Joey Lauren Adams, Christin Hinojosa, Parker Posey, Nicky Katt, Esteban Powell, Renée Zellweger/ Runtime: 103 minutes

I feel it must be said that Richard Linklater really did contribute to the concept of a slacker in his filmography to the point that Linklater himself has been seen by quite a few as being such a thing. At least that would be the assumption due to the free flowing, carefree style that is present in those movies. Indeed even though his filmography may dispute that fact, it’s still obvious to many that a good portion of Linklater’s movies just float around in the breeze like a hanging cloud of smoke from Mary Jane herself. Indeed I think that analogy might really truly be appropriate given that we are reviewing here today one of Linklater’s most well-known movies: Dazed and Confused. Indeed, due to being released in the aftermath of all the attention being bestowed upon Slacker, Dazed and Confused sadly didn’t quite find the audience it deserved in the initial theatrical run. Rather it was through that distinct, one could even call slackerish in nature, behavior that consists of lounging on a couch with a group of friends and proceeding to watch a rented or bought VHS, (remember them?) which resulted in massive amounts of people finding this movie. Intriguingly it was the home video craze which really helped establish this movie’s distinct reputation to the extent that this film is considered by a lot of people to be superior to Linklater’s previous movie. Indeed this good-natured, laid-back look back at a group of kids on the last day of school in a small Texas town on 1976 really makes for a terrific marathon with such films as American Graffiti and Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Indeed, much in the same vein as Fast Times, part of the amusement and nostalgia one has when watching this film is that it provides audiences with the opportunity to see a distinct group of actors provide the world with some of their first performances. Actors who incidentally would go on to become either dependable and hardworking actors or, in the case of a select few like Affleck and McConaughey, A-List material in the world of film. Yet I also think that Dazed and Confused is related to Fast Times for several other distinct reasons. For starters these are a pair of films who are quite close in regards to when they take place though when Dazed takes place might be only a few years earlier than the events in Fast Times. Yet these are also, and this might be the most significant similarity, a pair of movies that just seemingly free flow in its way of going from character to character in the movie, a method of madness that actually became popular, ironically, after none other than American Graffiti (surprise surprise). Indeed it is in that approach as well as a loving and poignant style that brings the 70s roaring back to life and top-notch work from both cast and crew in equal measure that Dazed and Confused really truly is an absolutely wonderful look back at a generation that took each day as it came and lived life to the fullest due in no small part to the fact that quite often they were truly and wonderfully lost in the space between their pair of ears.

The plot is as follows: while there are several stories occurring at the same time on the last day of school in a small town in Texas in May of 1976, Linklater chooses to frame the beginning, or near the beginning, and end of the film with a character named Mitch Kramer. Mitch is an anxiety-stricken upcoming freshman who desperately tries to avoid the school’s tradition of hazing all the incoming new freshmen, both male and female alike. In fact these initiations manage to provide audiences with a few key character introductions early on, including Ben Affleck’s vicious yet complete dunce O’Bannion and Parker Posey’s almost bizarrely psychotically perky Darla Marks. Once we get past that however we also get to meet a gauntlet of characters in quick succession in a manner that is also surprisingly well-done in that it provides us instantly with everything we need to know about them. This gauntlet includes Wooderson a philosophical 20-something year old who has been unwilling to truly abandon the high school social world, a trio of bookish individuals named Mike, Cynthia and Tony who decide to live it up and actually try to join the party for once, and Randall “Pink” Floyd, the star jock as well as big man on campus who also turns out to be a surprisingly nice and decent guy. Together these wild and crazy boys and girls will all congregate, mix, mingle, party like there’s no tomorrow, and maybe just maybe learn a thing or 2 along the way if only they’ll be able to remember it all…..

Now as with several of Linklater’s movies, there really is next to nothing “huge” that occurs in this film. Indeed there is no typical 3-act narrative, and there are no significant plot points that quickly come into focus. Rather the film chooses to give us in their place a run of tinier, but numerous moments for the majority of the characters. Yet despite the odds against it, this movie still manages to triumph and be a smooth ride for 98% of the runtime. That is because this is a relaxed and good natured cinematic experience that will most assuredly resonate with any individuals out there who braved the weird social dynamics that were present in high school even if that dynamic braving didn’t take place in the 70’s. Yet, not content with just that, Linklater then manages to really accomplish something extraordinary: he manages to make this movie universally, no pun intended, relatable for any audience despite being set and grounded in the late 70’s. Indeed this is a film which really makes the universal argument that sometimes you have to be willing to live your life the way you want to and not how other people be they your friends, coaches, teaches, or whomever want you to. Indeed it really is like Wooderson says, you just gotta keep livin’, and that is one mantra that I think will truly stand the test of time.

Now this is also a film which literally does an amazing job at making the viewer feel like they are actually back in 1976. Indeed from the cars to the hair styles and clothes that the kids in this movie are all wearing, Linklater takes us back to a period of time when muscle cars were the way to travel, denim was worn in double, and a guy’s hair could be long enough to make even Rapunzel herself jealous enough to go talk to her stylist. Along with that though we also get one of the most true-to-the-decade soundtracks for a movie set in the 1970s. Indeed from Slow Ride to Fox on the Run, Linklater gives this movie a soundtrack that will make you smile, and make you wish you could take it easy and unwind just as much as the characters in this movie clearly are.

Now this is a movie which has quite the giant ensemble group consisting of young actors with talent and some of whom would later go on to achieve further success in the industry. Indeed as Randall “Pink” Floyd, Jason London is honestly the nearest thing to what you might classify as this movie’s “leading man” so to speak. That is because Pink, as we learn, has the clearest “arc” in the film. An arc that consists not only of Pink most certainly not being on board with the team hive mindset especially when their coach begins forcing his team mates to sign a pledge that, in his mind, is a clear-cut infringement on his right to live his life as he sees fit, but also sees Pink taking pity on a freshman named Mitch Kramer. A kid who, after being on the receiving end of a brutal whooping as part of the yearly “initiation”, is taken under Pink’s wing and invited to hang out thus giving the incoming freshman a night to remember. As for Mitch, I definitely feel that he is portrayed quite wonderfully by Wiley Wiggins due to his ability to really not only showcase the character’s anxiety at spending time with these older guys, but after a while, Mitch begins warming up to the whole thing and actually finds himself accepted by these guys.

The rest of the characters in this movie are also a very intriguing to say the least group that the majority of which you might actually find in a high school or small town. This includes Rory Cochrane as far-out, but good natured pothead Slaterson who says man as much as Groot says “I am Groot”, Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp and Marissa Ribisi who bring a heart and a wisdom to their roles as quasi-intellectuals/ Greek chorus in a sense Mike Newhouse, Tony Olson and Cynthia Dunn, Sasha Jenson as the dunce, but decent at heart Dawson, Ben Affleck as the psychopathic O’Bannion who literally failed senior year so he could haze incoming freshmen one more time, Parker Posey as the no-less subtle female bully Darla Marks, Matthew McConaughey, in the role that made him an Austin and film icon, who bestows both a worldly sense of wisdom while also a sense of confidence all his own as 20-something year old Wooderson, and Mitch’s elder sister Jodi who brings some much needed heart and compassion to this wild and rowdy group. Indeed there is not a single weak link in this cast and they all do absolutely marvelous work no matter how much or how little screen-time they are given.

All in all Linklater’s preceding effort Slacker may have got the lion’s share of the attention when it came out, but this most likely was because of the then unique concept of being able to switch amongst a set of multiple narratives with seemingly the snap of a finger, provided that finger doesn’t belong to Thanos. Yet the plain and simple fact has to stand that Dazed and Confused, when put up against its preceding film in Linklater’s filmography, is most definitely the significantly more grown-up from an emotional perspective as well as poignant altogether film. Indeed it is quite obvious that Linklater adores these characters and the world that they live in. Indeed the director and movie also deserve to be respected for not giving in to the urge to provide audiences with the stereotype of good vs bad at least on any grander scale other than the typical stupidity that goes into initiation as well as one moment of revenge and a genuine moment of fisticuffs during the last act of the movie. Indeed when you have a movie that is that low-key in its stakes, I can understand why people think that this movie isn’t attempting to try its hardest to be something great. Trust me when I tell you that is the wrong assumption to make about this movie. I say that because, thanks to a poignant sense of time and place from a wonderful filmmaking crew as well as terrific performances across the board and some subtle yet valuable insights amidst all the fun about growing up, finding your place in the world, and being yourself in the face of conformity, this movie is more than great. In fact if anything I’d say this movie is alright, alright, alright. On a scale of 1-5 I give Dazed and Confused a 4.5 out of 5.