Dazed and Confused (1993)

8 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“If I ever say these are the best years of my life…remind me to kill myself.”

Those are surprisingly revelatory words spoken by high school senior Randy “Pink” Floyd (Jason London) to his stoned friends on their first night after high school. After a night of partying, drinking, smoking joints, and hanging with friends, Pink—a football jock—finds himself hanging with who the school coach dubs the “wrong crowd,” smoking marijuana on the 50-yard line at the school’s football field. He says these words and it’s possibly the one time any of the teenagers in this movie notice that they feel like something is missing.

But that’s not unlike teenagers. We were caught in states of confusion. We ignore them by simply hanging out and talking about other stuff without having to get too serious, just to have a good time. Only occasionally did we acknowledge what problems we had. As time goes by and we get older, we block out the pain and just remember the nostalgia.

This is probably why Richard Linklater, writer and director of “Dazed and Confused,” decided to set this film in the 1970s instead of the 1990s, when it was made. He’s recalling his own nostalgia and it comes through in this film, which is essentially plotless—it’s just chronicling these small-town teens on the night of the last day of school. They hang out. They party. They drink. They smoke marijuana. They talk. That’s it. That’s the movie. It doesn’t matter if the hero gets the girl, the nerd gets his moment, the bully gets his comeuppance, and whatever high-school-movie cliché you can mention. It has truthful elements to it.

Linklater introduces us to one set of characters and we hang around with them as they hang out with each other. Then we move to another set, stay with them. Then another. We get plenty of time to watch them develop, although I have to admit I think there were too many people to keep track of. Most notable are the aforementioned Pink, who is troubled that the coach insists that he sign a paper that keeps him off drugs and alcohol (and away from the “wrong crowd”), and thus invading his independence; Slater (Rory Cochrane), a stoned-out-of-his-mind party animal; Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey), a graduate from years back, still hanging around high school kids because they remind him of his best moments in life (which causes Pink to say the aforementioned quote); and Mitch (Wiley Wiggins), a freshman who is one of many to be harassed by the seniors as a cruel, time-honored initiation tradition (requiring wooden paddles to smack them on the rear), but ends up lingering with Pink and the guys.

“Dazed and Confused” gives us a lot of characters in the mix, although admittedly, only a few of them are likable (Mitch, in particular, is possibly the most identifiable and his tale is engaging, while a lot of the other teenagers grow kind of annoying with their mean-spirited talk). Linklater, however, apparently cares about each of them.

I don’t expect anybody who went to high school in the 1970s to enjoy this film at their next high school reunion. Or maybe they will, as the film does capture the nostalgia of that time as well (the rock-n-roll soundtrack makes perfectly clear of that). I was born in the early ‘90s, went to high school in the late 2000s, and what I got out of this movie was a miniscule but effective legacy of these “cool” high-schoolers.

NOTE: I have to wonder—if the ‘70s looked back on the ‘50s in “American Graffiti,” and the ‘90s looked back on the ‘70s in “Dazed and Confused,” should I expect the 2010s (would that be the ‘10s, the teens) to look back on the ‘90s?

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