Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Adam Goldberg
Watch Dazed and Confused online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
With the arrival of Richard Linklater’s refreshingly un-nostalgic teen movie Dazed and Confused, Netflix might finally have added the ultimate chill movie of choice. The modern classic indie starts on May 28th 1976, the last day of term at Lee High School in Austin, Texas, and follows a number of youngsters on their first day of freedom.
As far as story goes, that’s about it. Stoners, jocks, geeks and freshmen all populate the same film, intermingling in a mutual quest to celebrate the onset of summer in style, all trying not to think too hard about the future.
Star football player Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London) finds himself on the horns of a dilemma when the coaches ask him and his teammates to sign a pledge of sobriety for the next year. Elsewhere, Kevin Pickford (Shawn Andrews) is planning an epic keg party that runs into complications when his parents decide to stay home for the weekend. And coming up for the first time, freshman Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins) is doggedly pursued by a gang of upper-class men, who seem hell-bent on paddling his backside until it’s raw.
“Lackadaisical” is one word that is often used to describe the film’s laid back attitude to narrative – it’s meant affectionately, we’re sure, but Linklater is the furthest thing from careless, instead offering a freight train of entertainment, moving slowly but carrying a lot of weight.
As a period piece, it offers a suburban locale that feels lived-in and is impeccably scored by the likes of Alice Cooper, KISS, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Foghat. But beneath the believable 1970s throwback value, there’s more melancholy than nostalgia: Linklater sets out to remember things the way they were, rather than a rose-tinted version of high school dynamics.
This is most obvious in the cycle of hazing that perpetuates throughout the film, because there’s no reassurance that this has been broken by the time the credits roll. The male juniors and seniors have been looking forward to battering the butts of the younger kids ever since their own butts got battered, and so on and so forth. The corresponding female initiation ceremony is less determined, but far more humiliating; the antagonism of young Sabrina (Christin Hinojosa) throughout the film isn’t as prominent as Mitch’s, but it makes an interesting counterpoint.
The film famously introduced us to Matthew McConaughey, who becomes a movie star from the moment he says “Alright, alright, alright”. His Wooderson is one of the more pathetic figures in the film – “Man, that’s what I love about these high school girls. I get older, they stay the same age.” – but the effortless cool and charisma in his performance is representative of the film itself.
London’s Pink is a little more introspective, choosing to use his freedom of movement among the myriad social groups to mentor Mitch (though only after he’s already been hazed) and procrastinate over whether to sign the pledge. But he’s not lionised either, and a romantic interlude in the film’s climactic party scene is smartly undercut by his tactless courting.
The most pathetic of all is O’Bannion (Ben Affleck, as a batman of a different sort), who takes sadistic glee in another go of hazing the younger kids, having failed to graduate second year the first time around. His arc makes him one of the more ridiculous characters in play and the only one who gets a sense of resolution and comeuppance. For all of the other characters, life will go on, whether they turn to face it or not, but O’Bannion is ultimately punished for staying the same.
Dazed and Confused is difficult to write about because it’s more of a feeling than a film. Its affected aimlessness is hugely successful, but its entertainment value ensures that it never feels slow. Its pace is entirely its own and it offers a showcase for many future stars, from Milla Jovovich and Cole Hauser to Joey Lauren Adams. But Linklater doesn’t use the setting as a licence to get misty eyed about the characters’ antics – at one point, Pink tells his friends “if I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself”. Nevertheless, from the soundtrack to the performances, Dazed and Confused is perhaps the most quintessential end-of-term movie ever made.
Dazed and Confused is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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