Rating: 3 stars (out of 4)
When I finished Dazed and Confused the first time, I didn’t really know what I thought of it. But after some reflection and a second viewing, I understand its goals and can see how skillfully it achieves them. Dazed follows nobody’s rules. It’s flawed, unconventional, funny, and completely outrageous. That’s the best way to describe it: completely outrageous. It revels in its absurdity and takes great risks, more than a few of which work. It doesn’t try to mitigate its outrageousness in the hopes of eliciting a bigger audience, but it knows what it’s doing.
Written and directed by Richard Linklater and starring a host of oh-yeah-I know-them actors, Dazed has virtually no structure, which is part of its charm. It’s the last day of high school, 1976 (the movie was made in 1993). Students, naturally, have big plans for commemorating the occasion, from terrorizing freshmen to throwing parties away from unsuspecting parents’ eyes to finding one last hook-up, and the film races almost chaotically from event to event, person to person. There’s very little character development, not that we care, because there are so many characters that we can’t possibly get to know them well.
O’Bannion (Ben Affleck, lol) and his gang of seniors target freshmen to haze, in particular Mitch (Wiley Wiggins). David (Matthew McConaughey, before he got obnoxious) is on the lookout for freshman girls, even though he’s well past his glory days. Michelle (Milla Jovovich) and other senior track stars plan out-of-control methods of humiliating the up-and-comers. Meanwhile, Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London) has no interest in signing the affirmation his football coaches are forcing on him that he will not do drugs, drink alcohol, or engage in risky sexual behavior. I mean, hell, why play football in high school without those things?
There are other characters, but don’t bother spending too much time trying to figure them all out. You’ll soon understand the designations, understand how the freshmen spend their days in fear of getting spanked by the seniors and plot ways of getting revenge, understand how the parents are predictably clueless about everything going on, and understand what everyone’s point is: to make the end of the school year as memorable as it can be. That is, as the tagline says, if they can remember it afterwards.
The film follows an episodic structure with several memorable moments. The best occurs when one popular student, Slater (Rory Cochrane), plans to throw a party at his house once his parents leave on vacation. Unfortunately, the man delivering the kegs shows up early, when his parents are still home, forcing Slater to tell him that, hey, sorry, you’ve got the wrong house, buddy. But that’s too late; “unpack your bags, honey; we’re not going anywhere” his father says (Slater’s reaction to which is perfect), and there is a succession of hilarious scenes of students showing up at the house and running away, appalled, when the father answers the door.
These being resourceful high schoolers, though, someone will find a way to gather enough support for a party elsewhere, one that features climbing up a water tower, hopeless boys trying to impress girls, hopeless boys trying to fight obnoxious bullies, and lots of drinking and drugs. (Note: If none of these things appeal to you, don’t watch Dazed and Confused. But that’s unlikely.)
Dazed may not be Fast Times at Ridgemont High—the characters are less distinctive and it doesn’t have the heart of Cameron Crowe’s movie, which did a better job of presenting kids that deep down were good people. But anyone who’s seen Dazed will be able to quote its lines—“If I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself”—especially those that are delivered with suave coolness by McConaughey: “You should ditch the two geeks you’re with and come with us, but we’ll worry about that later”; and, of course, the classic: “That’s what I like about these high schoolers—I get older, they stay the same age.”
All in all, anyone’s who lived through high school should be able to relate to something.