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Dazed and Confused (1993)

by on 2011/09/19

“Slow ride, take it easy,
Slow ride, take it easy,
Slow ride, take it easy,
Slow ride, take it easy.”

* * *

Dazed and Confused appeared on numerous lists of movies about school. Ironically, it has little (directly) to do with the place. The bigger surprise for me, however, was less this revelation than discovering the cast of future stars assembled by writer/director Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise).

The ensemble features 24 players. Yes, twenty-four . . . and more, if you count the minor roles. Familiar names include: Joey Lauren Adams and Ben Affleck (both in Chasing Amy), Adam Goldberg (Saving Private Ryan), Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil), Deena Martin (Swingers), Matthew McConaughey (Contact), Parker Posey (the films of Christopher Guest), and Marissa Ribisi (The Brady Bunch Movie). According to Wikipedia, Renee Zellweger is in there somewhere as well.

How does one tell a coherent story with such a large cast? Easy . . . you don’t.

School is the jumping-off point for a slice of the Seventies, a day and a night in the life of some Texan students. On the last day before summer vacation, there is less truancy than you’d expect. Few seem anxious to get away, for they have nowhere else to go. Everything suggests preparation for the coming return in September.

The sprawling cross-section of teens share a perpetual state of intoxicated lust with their spiritual heirs in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Few adults occupy their world, and nearly all who do are complicit, dismissed, or uninterested. This “reality” feels like an idealized version of teenage life or, at least, an acceptable compromise.

I was reminded of the tone of Almost Famous, in which the upstarts of an older generation take successors under their wings. A similar dynamic is at play here. There’s a sameness to everyone. More than just being in the same age group or having access to cars, there was little real distinction between the cliques we find in other efforts, like The Breakfast Club.

Everyone is united by going out, cruising Austin, flirting, drinking, smoking, and smoking up. Pranks and vandalism are the console games of the day. Admittedly, there is some minor conflict in the ritualistic hazing of freshmen by seniors. However, having taken their ceremonial lumps, the juniors are accepted by their elders, swept into the ongoing ebb and flow of party life.

It’s an unusual blend of cruelty and humanity, balanced and never exploitative. Even the most intense moments of stress lack a certain edge. Drugs are more spoken of than partaken. Sex may be on their minds, but it doesn’t go beyond teasing.

For me, the experience was less about action, and more about a time and a place. Linklater fills the canvas of his picture with a convincing texture of details which bely its Nineties production. Kids use screwdrivers to secure their bedroom doors. Two girls need pliers to struggle into their jeans. A junior high dance sees the boys dwarfed by their female partners.

The dialogue is on par with the visuals. A hangover hippie teacher offers a wry parting lesson on the Fourth of July. Three potheads debate the alien, drug, and financial interests of George Washington (and his hip, hip lady wife). One character bemoans the unremarkable Seventies, anticipating the Eighties will be more “radical”.

And, of course, eight-tracks are everywhere, but that prop should be a given. What impressed me more was the music driven by those ancient tapes. While I’m no great fan of that decade’s classic rock, kudos are due for the soundtrack selection. The licensing of its A-list songs and artists must have been a major undertaking, not to mention a big chunk of the budget.

It all worked together to create a rich tapestry, a time capsule of the people, places, fashions, and activities . . . or so I assume, having missed that scene myself by roughly a decade. Though I didn’t learn much of consequence and likely won’t rewatch it, I did enjoy myself and would recommend it to others. Don’t go in expecting a plot, and you probably won’t be disappointed.

Because, whatever Dazed and Confused had to say, it sure sounded well-spoken.

* * *

Rated 14A (Canada) / R (United States)

102 minutes

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