Dazed and Confused: No confusion in quality
For my film studies course, I have to create a thesis regarding American cinema and write a paper on it. My thesis is on how filmmaking in Austin, Texas has further developed American cinema. Austin, Texas has become what one journalist has called “the third coast” for film. What started with a chainsaw slasher film developed an actual studio and site for most movies. Austin still develops its fair share of independent films, some of which have developed large cult followings. For my topic, I decided to watch one: Dazed and Confused.
Director Richard Linklater (who believe it or not founded the Austin Film Society) wrote and directed this indie in 1993 about a couple of high schoolers enjoying their last day of school during the seventies. Dazed and Confused didn’t bring in much revenue but has since develop a strong following including a near-perfect score on Rottentomatoes.com…and I can see why. Ever heard of a film called American Graffiti? Well, this movie is like that, only a little better. It’s funnier, the music is better, and it’s much more likable. It’s definitely a stoner movie, but its not a stoner movie that is too obnoxious. It has elements of heart, friendship and connection combined with a proper amount of raunchy humor.
The movie deals with a group of high schoolers trying to enjoy their last day of high school in 1976. Randall “Pink” Floyd (played by Jason London) is hesitant to return to the football team because he doesn’t want to sign a pledge saying he’ll stay away from drugs and sex. A number of senior guys try to paddle middle schoolers as a right of initiation into high school. Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins). a middle schooler, tags along with Floyd and some of Floyd’s friends after he gets paddled by O’Bannion (Ben Affleck. No seriously, Ben Affleck is in this film). After a planned party with beer has its cover blown, everyone just drives around looking for something to do. Two nerds, Tony (Anthony Rapp) and Mike (Adam Goldberg), drive around trying to have fun. Tony hooks up with a freshman girl (Christin Hinojosa), and Mike wants to do something memorable in his life.
Like American Graffiti, Dazed and Confused is told in a series of vignettes happening simultaneously. There really is no coherent story as much as it is a bunch of sub-stories. However, these sub-stories weave together a tapestry of trying to find purpose in life and enjoyment during adolescence. It’s about growing up and finding out who you are and what you want to be while enjoying your life right now. I can see why Richard Linklater picked the Led Zeppelin song for the title. There are many different characters in this film. Each one has their own story, giving him or her enough time for the audience to get to know them. There really is no main character unless you consider “Pink” or Mitch the main character. Really it’s high school that is the subject matter.
There aren’t many big-names or anyone familiar. There are three names that we know now: Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, and Matthew McConaughey. Everyone else isn’t all well-known. Despite that, the actors are believable in their roles. Each character was someone different, and each actor’s personality seem to fit with each one. Matthew McConaughey plays his character Wooderson as pretty laid back. What makes it work so well is that Matt is pretty laid back in real life (so laid back that he’ll play bongos in the nude). The best actor is probably Rory Cochrane as the stoner Slater. You’d believe he was a stoner if he told you. I really can’t say which actor stood out because every one did a really good job in carrying the story across. That isn’t a bad thing, though. That’s why I thought The Social Network was stronger than The King’s Speech.
The best thing about this movie is how well Richard Linklater created this world of the seventies. He picked some really great songs of the time, which isn’t hard because the music of the seventies was great. He combined every possible culture of the seventies into one movie minus the disco crowd. Hippies, potheads, rockers, everybody. High school itself never really changes. It always has the same groups that run the place regardless. This makes this movie easier for us to relate, maybe even sympathetic. We know these people, maybe not to this extent. Regardless of the time, the message isn’t dated or of its time.
Bottom line: Dazed and Confused is a great movie. It has great characters and vignettes. The music is great. The jokes that work really work. The energy is fun and high. Above all, we can relate to it. It’s a better American Graffiti than…well, American Graffiti. In a time where Hollywood is running out of new ideas, independent movies such as this really stand out. Hell, Office Space has a strong following, and that, too, came from Austin. As long as movies like these come out of Texas, there is no doubt that there will be a fruitful studio here in the Lone Star State.
Final Rating: 9 out of 10 – Do Go