Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater
Starring: Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, Sasha Johnson, Michelle Burke, Christine Harnos
For a time meant to be developmental for individuals, high school allows for youngsters to do a host of idiotic things, dependent on parent supervision, of course. A time in their lives where puberty hits its peak and they do not have the responsibility of being a college student. Dumb traditions can occur, with no one questioning it, and for the students in Dazed and Confused, it involves smoking plenty of marijuana. Devoid of any conflict but incredibly insightful with how it looks at these teenagers, this film works well as a stoner comedy but also an examination of high school dynamics.
At a high school in Austin, Texas, a long-practiced tradition takes place where on the last day of school, rising seniors have the right to create paddles and whack rising first-year students’ butts. A strange practice but one everyone in this sector of the city goes along with. Surrounding this tradition, a group of teenagers decide to kick off the summer in style.
Looking back after completing Dazed and Confused and trying to decipher the plot or any real conflict leaves left me with not much to cling onto. While this may be a detriment to most films, it cannot be held against this one because it’s part of this movie’s purpose. With enough reference and use of marijuana to make Colorado jealous, this film just sets the camera down and captures the life of the teenagers in this town, and the experience yields hilarious results.
The paddle tradition definitely may confuse anyone watching the film, because these rising seniors take immense pleasure in beating these kids until their butts are sore and no one, except for one parent, intervenes. It’s almost concerning to watch because there’s one scene where the rising senior pulls up to the junior high school to warn these rising first-years of what will come and the camera pans to a teacher laughingly shaking his head. The boys receive the beating but the girls suffer through emotional abuse, as they have to essentially follow the orders of the rising senior girls to a strange degree.
All of this would be disturbing because of the seriousness of the rising seniors, but then it turns to the best two characters in the film, Mike (Adam Goldberg) and Tony (Anthony Rapp). They sit back watching these rising first-year girls get yelled at and comment on the ridiculousness of these traditions and how no one stops it. As the film progresses, they continue to serve this role in naming the ridiculous culture of being in high school and what people do just because it’s what everyone else does. This duo provides so many good comedic bits because they stand-in almost as audience surrogates in naming and questioning everything going on.
Outside of the traditions, everything else hovers around these teenagers just trying to party with no real conflict to think of except for perhaps Randall (Jason London). All the football players are asked by the coach to sign an agreement where they pledge not to drink alcohol, use illicit drugs, or do any other illegal activities. All of the other players sign it with no intention of honoring the agreement, but Randall refuses to sign it. This struggle of his teammates asking him why he won’t do it and what this means for him personally pokes its head out a few times throughout the story but it does not make for a central conflict by no means. The decision to remove major conflicts allows this to just be a fun time, as so many characters get a bit of the spotlight. Whether it be the rising first-year, Mitch (Wiley Wiggins) trying to ingratiate himself with the rising seniors or the creepy David Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey) still hanging out with teenagers and reliving his glory days. Each scene carries its own level of fun to display the shenanigans occurring and what they hope this summer will bring.
Richard Linklater works wonders in this film in how he crafts these characters and keeps them engaging without a real narrative thread binding them. The acting by these youngsters definitely looked shoddy at times, but it felt so natural to their characters because of the way Linklater sets them up. With this being a complete stoner comedy, it baffles me to no end he would end up making one of the most romantic films ever, and one of my personal favorites, only two years later in Before Sunrise. His filmography has no two consecutive films being similar, which makes me have such admirable respect for him.
With no parents around to enforce anything and plenty of marijuana to go around, Dazed and Confused invites the audience to join the party. These teenagers get into their shenanigans and kick off a summer that will be the last one of innocence for the rising seniors and an entry to the big leagues for the rising first-years. Very funny in segments and enjoyable throughout, appreciating this film involves vibing with it, which certainly happened with me.