That’s what I love about this movie, man. I get older, Dazed and Confused stays the same masterpiece.
Synopsis: The adventures of high school and junior high students on the last day of school in May 1976. (IMDB)
Starring: Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, and Matthew McConaughey
Writer: Richard Linklater
Director: Richard Linklater
Rating: 14A (Canada)
Running Time: 102mins
On the last day of school, students are eager to start partying and enjoy the summer vacations. But as a rite of passage, seniors prank younger students. The boys chase the youngsters to beat the hell out of them. The girls, on the other hand, force a series of stupid tasks on their targets. Some boys are able to escape the beating, which only turns them into a bigger target. One of the school football players (London) is not sure if he is going to comply with a commitment letter imposed by the team’s coach. A party is ruined in one of the students home and they end up celebrating the beginning of the summer on the park.
There’s not much of a clear story in “Dazed and Confused”. The film just goes from one different group to the other, showing their happiness about the summer. If there’s anything resembling a protagonist here, it’s probably Pink, the football player with a moral dilemma, who London portrays in such an effortless and charismatic way. But there are other noble protagonists in this story, especially Mitch (Wiggins) and Sabrina (Christin Hinojosa), the two junior high students “adopted” by their older comrades.
This is the film that made everyone take notice of Richard Linklater and it’s the perfect example of a cult movie. The studio didn’t believe in it and released it without giving a second thought in very few theaters. Slowly, it started finding its audience, connecting with people all around the world who weren’t even born in 1976 but saw themselves in these characters and it ended up building a huge following along the years.
It’s easy to understand why: “Dazed and Confused” perfectly encapsulates not only the 70’s but also mostly what it means to be a teenager. And, most especially, what it means to find and be part of a group. Going against most teenage stories, there’s not much romance going on here. I mean, there is, but it is not the main subject, not by far. Linklater prefers to focus on the friendship and the different types of bonds you can only have when you are still innocent to the world. This desire to be together, this willingness to connect with everyone around Is perfectly endearing, turning the film into a very warm ode to friendship.
Linklater’s style of directing was in perfect display here: he is one of the most effective directors working today that can makes us feel as if we are not watching a fiction film at all but almost a documentary. He has an invisible direction and he makes everything seems so seamless, when we know it’s not like that at all. It feels like we are just witnessing these lives, almost like an intrusive way. He doesn’t care about showing off as a director; actually, his intentions are the opposite. Because of that, we embark in the story right from the start, and although the film has over 20 characters, we always know who each of them are. That happens because Linklater goes back and forth from their stories in an uncomplicated way and because the actors fully encapsulate their characters with gusto. The facts that (at the time) most of them were pretty much nobodies only helped with that feeling.
Being so understated doesn’t mean some characters don’t pop out from the bunch. In fact, they are all so endearing it ends up happening to a lot of them. McConaughey is one of the standouts, making his creepy (and very troubled character) hugely charismatic. Parker Posey is great as the original mean girl, Ben Affleck is a perfect sleazebag and Adam Goldberg, Marissa Ribisi and Anthony Rapp are a great trio. But there’s no way of talking about this movie and not mention Slater. Rory Cochrane is absolutely hilarious as probably the most stoned character ever seen (until that time, at least). His monologue about George and Martha Washington and an alien conspiracy is laugh out loud funny. But the greatest thing about the cast is that even the tiniest characters and interesting, you just want to know that person a little better before the movie is over.
This is one of those few movies when you can feel pretty clearly how much the director was in love with the creation. Not in an egotistical kind of way, far from that: there’s a sense of joy, almost childlike, which is quite palpable during the entire film. That doesn’t happen very often, but it’s such a treat when we get to experience that feeling. Dazed and Confused has that.
And that soundtrack, man… don’t even get me started on that soundtrack…
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