Back to School #49: Dazed and Confused (dir by Richard Linklater)


Oh my God, I love this freaking movie.

First released in 1993, Dazed and Confused is a classic Texas film.  Taking place in 1976 and following a large and varied group of characters over the course of the last day of school, Dazed and Confused is like American Graffiti with a lot more weed.  In many ways, it’s a plotless film, though things do happen.  The students of Lee High School survive one final day of school before the start of summer.  (Interestingly enough, most of the characters here are incoming seniors and freshman, as opposed to the confused graduates who usually show up in films like this.  This may lower the stakes — none of the students are worrying about whether or not to go to college or anything like that — but it also gives the film a fun and laid back vibe.)  The incoming freshman are all hazed by the incoming seniors.  For the girls, this means being covered in ketchup and mustard and being forced to ask the seniors to marry them.  For the boys, the hazing is a lot more violent and disturbing as they are chased through the streets by paddle-wielding jocks.  A party is planned and then abruptly canceled when the kegs of beer are delivered before the parents leave town.  Another party is held out in the woods.  A high school quarterback tries to decide whether or not to sign an anti-drug pledge.

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No, not much happens but then again, plot is overrated.  Dazed and Confused is not about plot.  It’s about capturing a specific time and place and showing how different individuals define themselves within their environment.  It’s one of the best high school films ever made, perhaps the best.

Why do I so love Dazed and Confused?  Let me count the ways.

First off, it’s a true Texas film.  This isn’t just because it was directed by Texas’s greatest filmmaker, Richard Linklater.  It was also filmed in Texas, it’s full of Texas actors, and, as a native Texan, I can tell you that it’s one of the few films that gets my homestate right.  Even though the film takes place long before I was even born, there were still so many details that I recognized as being unique to Texas today.  I guess the more things change, the more they remain the same.

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Perhaps the most Texas scene in the entire film was when quarterback Randy Floyd (Jason London) was talking to the old couple at the minor league baseball game.  Both the old man’s obsessive interest in the high school football team (“We’re countin’ on you boys next year…”) and Randy’s patiently polite answers, were, to me, the epitome of Texas.  And, of course, we can’t forget the store clerk advising the pregnant woman to eat a lot of “green things” while selling her a pack of cigarettes and the guy who reacts to the destruction of his mailbox by running around with a gun.  I suspect I might live a few blocks away from both of those guys.

But, beyond that, just the entire film’s laid back atmosphere epitomized everything that I love about my state.

Secondly, Dazed and Confused is an amateur historian’s dream!  Richard Linklater went to high school in the 70s and he recreates the decade with a lot of obvious care and love.  (It’s also somewhat obvious that both the characters of Randy and incoming freshman Mitch (Wiley Wiggins) are meant to be autobiographical.)  Now, me, I’ve always been obsessive about history and I’ve always somewhat regretted that I was born long after the 70s ended.  Dazed and Confused is probably about as close as someone like me will ever get to having a time machine.

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I’m also something a political history junkie so how excited was I to see that, during one scene, all of the candidates for the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination were listed on a bulletin board.  How many other movies have featured a reference to the Fred Harris presidential campaign?  Admittedly, I know nothing about that campaign.  I just think it’s neat that somebody with as common a name as Fred Harris once ran for President.

Finally, if you look really carefully, you’ll notice that Lee High School is located right next to a movie theater that, according to its marquee, is showing Family Plot, Alfred Hitchcock’s final film.  Just imagine the fun that I could have had going to Lee High.  I could have skipped school and gone to a movie!

Third, this film has a great soundtrack!  The low rider gets a little higher … hey, I think there’s a double meaning there…

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But, really, the main reason I love this film is because I love great ensemble work and Dazed and Confused has a wonderful cast.  Some members of the cast went on to become famous and some did not, but all of them give great performances.  In fact, the entire cast is so great that it’s difficult to know who to single out so I’m just going to name a few of my favorites.

First off, there’s the jocks.  Some of them, like Jason London’s Randy “Pink” Floyd are surprisingly sensitive.  Some of them, like Don Dawson (Sasha Jenson), remind me of the type of guys that I, despite my better judgment, would have totally been crushing on back in high school.  And then the others are just scary, running around with their cars full of beer and obsessively paddling freshman.  Benny (Cole Hauser), for instance, really does seem like he has some issues.  (Perhaps it’s because he lives in Texas but still has such a strong Boston accent…)

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However, the scariest of the jocks is, without a doubt, Fred O’Bannion (Ben Affleck). A complete and total moron who has actually managed to fail his senior year,  (“He’s a joke,” says Randy, “but he’s not a bad guy to have blocking for you…”)  O’Bannion is such a total idiot that, not only is it fun to see him eventually get humiliated, but it’s even more fun to watch him and think, “That’s Ben Affleck!”  And, it must be said, Affleck is totally convincing playing a complete and total dumbass.  That’s not meant to be an insult, by the way.  Future multiple-Oscar winner  Affleck does a really good job.

And then there’s the three self-styled intellectuals, Tony (Anthony Rapp), Mike (Adam Goldberg), and red-headed Cynthia (Marissa Ribisi), who spend the whole day driving around and discussing what it all means.  These are actually three of my favorite characters in the entire film, just because I’ve known (and, I must admit, loved) the type.  Plus, Cynthia has red hair and we redheads have to stay united!

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There’s the two incoming freshman who get to spend a night hanging out with the older kids — Mitch (Wiley Wiggins) and Sabrina (Christin Hinojosa).  Mitch is adorable while Sabrina gets to ask Tony to marry her.  Of course, Sabrina is covered in ketchup, mustard, and flour at the time.  (“She probably looks really good once you get all the shit off her,” Mike offers.)

And, of course, you can’t forget Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey).  In many ways, Wooderson is a truly creepy character.  He’s the older guy who still hangs out with the high school kids.  When he asks Mitch what the incoming freshman girls look like, you get the disturbing feeling that he’s not joking.  (“I get older but they stay the same age,” Wooderson says about his underage girlfriends, “yes, they do.”)  And yet McConaughey gives such a charismatic performance that Wooderson becomes the heart and soul of the entire film.  In the end, you’re happy that Randy has a friend like Wooderson.

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And there’s so many other characters that I love.  There’s the hilarious stoner Slater (Rory Cochrane).  There’s Mitch’s older sister, Jodi (Michelle Burke), who is the type of cool older sister that I would have liked to have been if I actually had a brother and wasn’t the youngest of four.  There’s Randy’s girlfriend, Simone (Joey Lauren Adams) and Don’s occasional girlfriend, Shavonne (Deena Martin) who, at one point, refers to Don as being “Mr. Premature Ejaculation.”  Even the characters that you’re supposed to hate are so well-played and so well-written that it’s a pleasure to see them.  Parker Posey is hilarious as head mean girl Darla.  In the role of car-obsessed Clint, Nicky Katt is dangerously hot — even if he does eventually end up kicking Mike’s ass.  (“You wouldn’t say I got my ass kicked, would you?” Mike says.  Sorry, sweetie, you did. But everyone watching the movie totally loved you!)

(And let’s not forget that future Oscar winner Renee Zellweger shows up for a split-second, walking past Wooderson during his “that’s why I love high school girls” monologue.)

Dazed and Confused is a great film.  If you haven’t seen it, see it.  And if you have seen it, see it again.

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11 responses to “Back to School #49: Dazed and Confused (dir by Richard Linklater)

  1. The 70s and 80s *were* such a great time to grown up, go to school and experience all the types who populate this film. I feel bad for today’s generation, melded to cells and others devices, and truly “missing” life going on all around them (to steal from Ferris). Taking selfies and texting and living on a laptop does not come close to capturing the capabilities that our hearts and brains already possess to process, integrate and evolve from the beauty, insanity and accidental profundity inherent in those times.

    And it just kicked ass too

    🙂

    Like

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