Perhaps I grew up in the wrong generation. The last day of school - when in High School - has never been a "thing" for me, at least not in my town, based on my own experiences. But Richard Linklater's "Dazed and Confused" treats it as the big-ass, all-important, life-changing event that it probably should be regarded as. The first shot is of an orange car pulling out of the parking lot in slow motion while Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" plays over these heavily dramatized movements. This is truly what an establishing shot should be; it sets up the tone of the rest of the film and gives the viewer a taste of what is to come; well, basically. To summarize the experience of watching it would take a scene of such bipolar mood swings and schizophrenic energy that it might be dismissed by most movie-goers as either pretentious or down-right unbearable. So Linklater is intelligent not to attempt something so ambitious as that, and instead takes a more simplistic route. The rest is the opening credits, which are accompanied by a montage of the main characters - high schoolers, no less - as they both prepare for the last day of school (for the year) and escape it all-together.\
Of course, Alice Cooper's "School's Out" must play when school literally does get out for everyone; High Schoolers and Middle School youngsters alike. The former chases the latter with wooden bats (that all look conveniently identical) on the male end of the spectrum. When it comes to the female side, the freshman girls are degraded on school grounds - in parking lots, in cars, and otherwise - by the seniors. Freshman Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins) knows he's in for a beating, and he gets one; and he's got an entire summer of taking shit from older folk to look forward to. However, just as he's finishing his current session; a young athlete named Randall "Pink" Floyd (Jason London) arrives and offers him a ride home. He then invites Mitch to a big party which is to go on that night; even though the original plans have been thwarted by angry parents. The teenagers of "Dazed and Confused", living in the year of 1976, are depraved and determined when it comes to fighting for their right to party.
The film resembles most high school comedies. There is an elaborate cast of memorable characters, classic movie quotes abound, drug and alcohol content, a penchant for irreverent humor often pertaining to sex, and a heart at the core that never stops beating. And in the case of this film...it's best to put a big old emphasis on "never". Focusing less on plot and characters and more on situational comedy/drama, the film takes us from afternoon to evening to night to dawn; chronicling the party, the rides there, the hang-outs at local clubs, the vandalism in between, and the coming-of-age realizations of the younger characters. Mitch Kramer is one of two younger characters in the film to feel a little more grown up by the end; the other is a freshman girl named Sabrina Davis (Christin Hinojosa), who falls for a senior boy who happens to also fall for her. It all works out in the end, even if bad decisions are made; although one of my favorite aspects of Linklater's brilliant film is that it doesn't attempt to moralize the actions of its characters. No sugarcoating, no preaching; no nothing. It embraces the fact that experiences make us better and more intellectually advanced as people, and that some of our best experiences happen at a young age.
Linklater assembled a pretty large cast for the production, consisting of people we've seen before but in the films that followed - like Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Adam Goldberg, Milla Jovovich, Parker Posey, and Joey Lauren Adams - as well as people that became virtually nothing after this (Shawn Andrews, Wiley Wiggins, Rory Cochrane, Jason London). All the same, the cast does a truly exceptional job at channeling a consistent party attitude. The characters are not characters in the traditional sense; they represent groups of people or individuals - not necessarily clichés - amongst the High School crowd. The football jocks, the nerds, the stoners; they're all here, seemingly ripped straight from your own life. I feel the film is most successful in portraying these people on film as we see them in reality, and yet the greatest achievement is that "Dazed and Confused" still counts as great escapism. It captures the 70's culture and sensibilities a lot better than most movies do through a kick-ass soundtrack, spectacular costume design that evokes the decade and dialogue that could very well have matched the people of the times. I would not know. But I'd expect Linklater does. So I will trust him on this one. Yes indeed I will.
Some people find Linklater's style pretentious and almost needy. I've heard people claim that he's desperate for attention in everything he does - from his more casual features to his philosophical pieces - although I've never seen a hint of self-indulgence in his work. He makes movies to entertain both the audience and himself. He lets us in on the fun that he had making each film, and has a sense of humor and eye for humanity that resonates with a lot of movie-goers. It certainly resonates with this one. I think Linklater would be at his worst when dealing with fiction narratives; and at his best when writing stories with key elements taking from his own experiences in life. His visions of a 1976 American High School are almost romantic; with his camera never shying away from a chance to snag a sight that is - in all honesty - profound. The cinematography is excellent and looks just the right shade of "old", to immerse us in this superb little period piece. This couldn't have been made now, or at least not in the same way. People are still cashing in on the success of the film and many others that preceded it, but I guess that's how the film business goes. "Dazed and Confused" is not original, but it doesn't have to be. The great thing about movies like this one is that it's more about the performance than the material.
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About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall (ryguy4738)
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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