Synopsis: America, 1976. The last day of school. Bongs blaze, bell-bottoms ring, and rock and roll rocks. Among the best teen films ever made, Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused eavesdrops on a group of seniors-to-be and incoming freshmen. A launching pad for a number of future stars, Linklater’s first studio effort also features endlessly quotable dialogue and a blasting, stadium-ready soundtrack. Sidestepping nostalgia, Dazed and Confused is less about “the best years of our lives” than the boredom, angst, and excitement of teenagers waiting… for something to happen.
I know a bunch of people who love ‘Dazed and Confused’. The fact that it was released by Criterion on DVD and BD also suggests that it might be considered a classic of sorts in some quarters (admittedly, Criterion has fumbled twice with ‘The Rock’ and ‘Armageddon’, but those are rare exceptions to the rule).
Honestly, I don’t really get it.
This is my second attempt at watching the picture and my impression is much the same as the first time: for me, it’s a decent, but ultimately unrewarding experience. Throughout, I found myself watching ‘Dazed and Confused’ in an emotionally detached way that likely wasn’t the filmmakers’ intention.
I simply didn’t connect with ANY character, even though I could relate to some of them in vague ways. I also did not get any thrills out of the omnipresent pot smoking and beer drinking; watching other people party is hardly my idea of a good time. I suppose that I would have better enjoyed it lit up (case-in-point, the tag line for the film was “See it with a bud”). Having said that, the entertainment value of a movie shouldn’t have to depend on audience intoxication and/or stoner cred.
I should also note that I was put off by the hazing element of the picture; bullying is simply not conducive to laughter, in my mind. In fact, that was THE single defining element of the picture when I first saw it; I could not escape my disgust at the sight of all of the beatings and abuse. Bizarrely, my two closest friends at the time thought that this was a total riot. I never got that. Or forgot it.
In the end, one’s enjoyment of ‘Dazed and Confused’ hinges on its fascinating cast of first-timers, including a few Kevin Smith regulars. It’s hardly surprising that many of them (ex: Joey Lauren Adams, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey) all ended up with some level of success soon thereafter – some more than others, of course. They’re all a natural fit on the silver screen and they all leave an impression.
However, our key player, Wiley Wiggins, annoyed me at times. He was fresh-faced and sweet but he appeared to me to be a novice who had never acted before. In fact, he frequently delivered his lines in peculiar ways that were neither realistic nor quirky in that good way. For instance, there was this one scene where he kept pinching his face over and over while talking to a girl. It was so weird, so awkward; I really didn’t understand what he or the director were going for with that.
On a more positive note, this motion picture boasts a TERRIFIC soundtrack featuring the likes of Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, Peter Frampton, Kiss, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Nazareth, The Runaways, The Steve Miller Band, ZZ Top, and many more. It’s SO good, in fact, that it inspired two separate CD releases due to its popularity. What’s most impressive to me is that the filmmakers were even able to license that music for their film; it must have taken quite a bite out of their budget!
‘Dazed and Confused’ follows in the footsteps of ‘American Graffiti’ and ‘Cooley High’. It takes a glance at one day in the life of a handful of teenagers, teens on the cusp of remarkable changes in their lives. But whereas ‘Graffiti’ showed seniors on the final day of their summer vacation, and ‘Cooley’ offered high-schoolers playing hooky for a day, ‘Confused’ shows freshmen on their last day of school.
All of them offer the musical backdrop of a generation, from late-’50s rock ‘n’ roll to mid-’60s r&b to mid-’70s classic rock, and it’s no wonder that they’re all considered classics – they paint potent pictures of their respective eras. As far as I’m concerned, one could do a heck of a lot worse than to fall under ‘Dazed and Confused’s spell. It did very little for me, granted, but fans of coming-of-age stories, people who grew up in and/or are nostalgic for the mid-seventies, stoners and rockers alike would likely enjoy this picture’s trip back in time.