and lately a handful of them have been average or worse. Until I can get around to seeing some of the more recent films that have come out, I’ve been gorging on Lovecraft films, but recently I had the good fortune of seeing Dazed and Confused for the first time. Now, I am not nearly the first person to provide commentary on Richard Linklater (Before Midnight), but I wanted to take a pause to reflect on a movie that managed to both intrigue and entertain at such a high level that I immediately wanted to start it over again from the beginning. I’ve enjoyed a lot of movies, but can’t say I’ve had as much fun in a while.
Dazed and Confused (1993)
Plot: A bunch of high school students, namely rising seniors and freshmen, hang out on the last day and night of classes. Some of the seniors, like ambivalent football player Floyd (Jason London), take to paddling hapless freshmen, including the dorky, lovable Mitch (Wiley Wiggins). Quite plainly, there are so many characters that to outline each of their individual story-lines would be difficult and perhaps besides the point.
In case I didn’t clarify, Dazed and Confused an ensemble film. Everyone knows each other, since they’re in high school, but typical issues of following several people in a single movie are sidestepped smartly. Each character is treated like a human being, flaws and all, as seen in hothead Fred (Ben Affleck) or somewhat creepy Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey). In comparison to The Bling Ring, which I reviewed two weeks ago—a mean-spirited depiction of shallow teens—this movie tries to portray people as they are, and lets the intended messages precipitate naturally. The mix of across-the-board fantastic acting and humanized portrayals in Dazed and Confused make the subplots genuine and engaging, regardless of whether or not you care about high schoolers in the seventies. Wiley Wiggins as Mitch impressed me in particular, as he lends the role of awkward, nervous, and slightly apathetic teenager some subtlety and growth through minor changes in behavior.
There’s also, of course, the humor. A lot of it is dated, with an unabashed approval of hazing that might seem problematic in modern contexts, not to mention a proliferation of drunk driving. In its defense, though, a huge part of Dazed and Confused is its honest portrayal, good and bad, of being a high schooler in this setting. Linklater’s greatest skill as director and screenwriter for this film is that he doesn’t judge, and while many of us will not like these actions, it’s not his job to make a moral tale about the horrors of drunk driving. He’s making a human story, and sometimes stupid teenagers in the seventies would drink and drive with no consequences. It happens.
But the successful humor lies in its simplicity, showing the frenzy that a nerd can feel when a testosterone-overdosed guy gets a bit too aggressive, or the incredulity of Ben Affleck when you disrespect him by giving the movie he directed an Oscar but not even nominating him for Best Director. Or maybe it was a prank? Either way, it’s the honest depictions of kids in relatable situations that garner laughs, not cheap jokes or cruel humor. It’s refreshing. Life is funny, not because of punchlines but rather strange occurrences, odd people, and happenstance. I related to the humor in Dazed and Confused more than I do in most movies, and despite its reputation as a stoner comedy, I can easily say I enjoyed it despite not usually enjoying that subgenre.
There is, at one level, so much more to say about this movie, as the deft direction and script, not to mention cinematography, create the unified success that is Dazed and Confused. At the same time, that’s really all I need to say here; if you have seen it, then I’m sure you can relate to these successes and hopefully understanding my impulse to write a short appreciation of it. If you haven’t, then I recommend checking it out, ignoring what you might have heard. Dazed and Confused is a lovely little film, one that serves repeated viewings. The pleasantry of seeing a comedy this well-made warrants your attention, and you will be rewarded for it.