Dazed and Confused, directed and written by Richard Linklater, is a film about a group of high school students celebrating their last day of school before summer break. Set in the bicentennial year, 1976, in a small town in Texas, it follows several soon to be seniors and a few soon to be freshmen, that were cool enough to hang with the older kids, on their quest to party. The plot may be hard to find, but this film is a cult classic. Released in 1993, it had to have been the most quoted film in my High School. Although it was almost twenty years later, the depictions of the football jocks, the stoners, and the outsiders was so accurately done, I’d imagine that the film still holds up with teenagers today. Plus, what’s not to love? Booze, drugs, rock and roll, and the free spirit of adolescence.
Linklater first caught fame for his 1991 film Slacker, and it has been said that Clerks’ director, Kevin Smith, was inspired to become a director because of that film. Dazed and Confused features an amazing ensemble cast that is literally a who’s who of now well-known stars. Starring Jason London, who plays the rebel quarterback named Randy “Pink” Floyd, Ben Affleck sporting mutton chops, who plays the second year senior bully, O’Bannion, Adam Goldberg, who plays Mike, the brilliant outsider who really just wants to fit in with the cool kids, Parker Posey, who plays Darla, the original mean girl, Joey Lauren Adams, who plays Simone, your classic airhead slut, Anthony Rapp, who plays Tony, you might remember him from School Ties, and none other than Matthew McConaughey, who plays the washed up High School football star, Wooderson, that still parties with high school kids. This was McConaughey’s first real feature film role, and he made his character so memorable that I’d place a bet that it is what launched his career. Not his abs!
Besides the brilliant casting the thing that most stands out about this film is the killer soundtrack. The songs chosen place the viewer instantly into 1976 and help you remember what it felt like to be young and free. In fact, there were so many classic hits that this film has two full soundtrack albums. It features Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion”, Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy”, Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”, Kiss’ “Rock & Roll All Night”, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Tuesday’s Gone”, Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do” and “Show Me The Way”, Steve Miller Band’s “Livin’ in The USA”, and ZZ Top’s “Balinese” and “Tush”. And the list goes on and on.
The second best part of this film is how accurately the high school groups were depicted. Linklater covers all the bases, from the jocks, to the stoners, to the mean girls, to the dorks, to the greasers, and even the dipshits, like Affleck’s character O’Bannion. It’s really tough for me to say which character was my favorite. Both Affleck and McConaughey give stellar performances, which I think have been unmatched to this day. Their roles may be small; but they leave a serious impression. If I had to choose, I’d say that Rory Cochran’s Slater character is hands down the most realistic. From his barely open eyes, to his ridiculous hand gestures, and his slowed speech, he is the epitome of the stoner. I really knew people exactly like this in High School. I still wonder how in the hell they stayed high 24/7, but I know people like that do exist.
The dialogue in this film is outstanding. It is never cheeky, clichéd, or unfunny. In one of the first scenes, a teacher reminds her students what July 4th is all about and says, “Remember you’re celebrating the fact that a bunch of slave owning aristocratic white males didn’t want to pay their taxes.” Adam Goldberg’s character, Mike, has great lines, whether they’re just sarcastic or he’s providing the social commentary. From, “I guess she’s pretty cute, once you wipe all that shit off her,” to “What are we preparing ourselves for? Death.” A wide-eyed freshman remarks, “We’re freshmen, where all the girls will be putting out.” McConaughey says with a perfect Texas drawl, “That’s what I love about these high school girls. I get older, they stay the same age.” And the best line of all, said by Goldberg’s redheaded platonic friend is, “It’s the every other decade theory. The 50’s were boring, the 60’s rocked, the 70’s obviously suck …maybe the 80’s will be radical. Hey, it can’t get any worse.”
There’s also some more subliminal humor, whether it’s the messages on some of the senior’s paddles like “FAH Q” and “Soul Pole” or a girl laying down and having her friend zip her jeans up with a pair of pliers.
Although, I rate this film very highly, I still have a slight issue with the premise. The catalyst for the story really revolves around the incoming Seniors beating the incoming Freshman with wooden paddles. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the East Coast and this is a Texas thing, but it seems weird to me. Linklater can get away with it, because of the time setting of the film. Can you imagine a town supporting the hazing of high school freshmen in this day and age?
They take it a little easier on the girls. They only make them wear pacifiers, douse them with ketchup, mustard, and oatmeal and then drive them through a car wash. Can you say ouch? I just wondered if the water was boiling hot. Goldberg’s character, Mike, does remark on how strange this all is, but it still makes you wince when you watch the paddling scenes. The only reason I could tolerate those scenes was because they set it to some of the best of the best of classic rock. So I guess I’m saying I’m all for corporal punishment, as long as there is some really good stoner music in the background!
Cult classics have a serious following for a reason. Simply stated, it’s because they are usually some of the most original and unique storytelling around. They also appeal to a specific generation and embody a certain place and time in our shared history. And it also helps if they are absurdly funny. Dazed and Confused is all of these things. Next time you are watching Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle or Superbad, remember that Dazed and Confused came first.
Take a Drink: every time a freshman gets hit with a paddle.
Take a Drink: every time Slater says, “man” at the end of his sentence.
Take a Drink: every time Parker Posey’s character, Darla, says, “Bitch.”
Take a Drink: every time Mitch Kramer puts his thumb and index finger on the bridge of his nose.
Do a Shot: every time Matthew McConaughey’s character, Wooderson, says, “Alright, alright, alright.”