Dazed And Confused
Director: Richard Linklater.
Screenplay: Richard Linklater.
Starring: Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, Matthew McConaughey, Rory Cochrane, Sasha Jenson, Cole Hauser, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Shawn Andrews, Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, Marissa Ribisi, Joey Lauren Adams, Parker Posey, Deena Martin, Michelle Burke, Mark Vandermeulen, Esteban Powell, Jeremy Fox, Christin Hinojosa, Jason O. Smith, Terry Mross, David Blackwell, Nicky Katt, Renee Zellweger.
“Man, it’s the same bullshit they tried to pull in my day. If it ain’t that piece of paper, there’s some other choice they’re gonna try and make for you. You gotta do what Randall Pink Floyd wants to do, man. Let me tell you this, the older you do get the more rules they’re gonna try to get you to follow. You just gotta keep livin’, man…
Richard Linklater is one of those directors that consistently delivers fresh and original material yet somehow remains a filmmaker with a lower profile. His projects certainly gain the respect they deserve but they never really go over and above that in terms of awards. He’s always been innovative and has adopted some daring approaches to filmmaking with the likes of his free-form indie debut “Slacker“, the expansive “Before Sunrise” trilogy, the philosophical “Waking Life” and it’s rotoscope animated companion piece “A Scanner Darkly“. Even his forthcoming “Boyhood” – a 12 year project following a boy’s journey from 5 to 18 years old – is a feat that few, if any, directors have tackled. However, one of his most poignant and entertaining escapades happens to be the mosaic “Dazed and Confused“. It was largely ignored and a commercial failure upon it’s release but has since gained a strong cult status. And for very good reason.
The year is 1976 and it’s the last day of high school in a small Texan suburbia. Everyone’s up for a party and in search of booze and drugs but first, the incoming freshmen must go through some embarrassing initiation rituals organised by the senior students, who take great pleasure in putting the youngsters in their places.
Much like his aforementioned and experimental approach to “Slacker“, Linklater doesn’t have a lot going on narratively. He’s fully aware of this, however, and acts only as a mere vessel in allowing his actors the space to breathe and roam free in their roles. That being said, there’s still a complete focus here and the result is far more solid and entertaining than his debut. It’s not often I’ll praise a film for it’s lack of narrative but in the case of “Dazed and Confused” it’s the characterisation that leads the way and each and every one of the actors really shine; Wiley Wiggins is our young guide throughout this turbulent time for teenagers as he falls into a friendship with the senior students on his last day of freshman year and Linklater astutely captures a whole myriad of teenage angst and the carefree emotions of a disaffected youth.
Let’s not forget that this was only Linklater’s second film and it wasn’t just him that was finding his way, but also the impressive cast that he put together. Largely unknown at the time of the film’s release, many of the actors would go on to become part of the Hollywood firmament. We get well judged performances from all sorts of high school types; from Jason London and his jock pals Sasha Jenson and Cole Hauser to Rory Cochrane’s stoner, Adam Goldberg’s intellectual nerd and Ben Affleck – playing one of his most unlikeable characters – as the school bully. The most memorable from the entirely great ensemble, though, is a small but dynamic and scene stealing role for Matthew McConaughey as the older guy who refuses to grow up and move on.
Outwith the performances, Linklater also has a keen eye for capturing the 70’s setting (in all it’s flair and hair) and taps perfectly into the tone of the era. It’s a nostalgic look back at daunting initiations, rebellion and the agonising awkwardness of adolescence and it’s told with an affectionate wit and charm. I may not have went to an American high school or got involved in tanning some freshman ass with a pre-made baton but the energy and love for this poignant time really shines through and still operates at a level that will appeal to everyone who has any memory at all of their school experiences or peer pressure.
Sharing much in common with George Lucas’ “American Graffiti” or Greg Mottola’s more contemporary “Superbad“, this is a funny and insightful coming-of-age contemplation. Linklater has delivered some wonderful film’s over the years and I’m sure he’ll continue to do so but, so far, this is his best film to date. It’s absolutely superb.
Trivia: Matthew McConaughey states that the line “Alright, alright, alright!” in the scene at the Top Notch drive-in was his first line ever spoken on camera in the first scene of his entire film career. The infectious line was hence repeated during production by the entire crew and has been one of McConaughey’s trademark slogans, even using it during his Academy Award acceptance speech for best actor in “Dallas Buyers Club”. He says that he ad-libbed the line from Jim Morrison, who exclaimed it during a performance on the album “The Doors Live”.