By the end of Dazed and Confused one of the kids states the following about his high school experience, “If I ever say these were the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself.” This is one of those rare high school movies that look upon those years not under a romanticized nostalgic lens but as they were in reality: uneasy and agonizing, yet carefree and hopeful. It is a bit of an anthropological study, but mostly just an invitation to come hang out with your high school memories for one day.
The story follows a large and diverse group of teenagers of a Middle American high school. Most of the time it is hard to separate an individual character from the group but it is easy enough to follow the individual groups: clusters of three to five kids that travel together. As an audience we hang out with them for what is the first day of classes or the last day of summer. Seniors are hooking up and looking forward to their prom; juniors are hunting out future freshmen from the middle school to terrorize; sophomores and ex-freshmen are carefully observing the whole ritual while letting the times go by. And everyone is on the lookout for news about some secret party. What makes this movie different from any average high school film is that it knows cliques are not set in stone. One character is allowed to hang out with more than one group or not be a member of any specific group and just be chill with everyone. The film avoids labels.
The film is set in the 1970s and was made in 93 but it feels timeless; it could have been set in any time and its truths would hold. Most of the actors used in the film were at the time first timers. Several of them grew up to be stars including Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey and Milla Jovovich. They don’t act famous in this film and you might even not recognize them without their star power. And if you do it is more of a “hey I know that guy! I think we went to high school together” moment that a “hey that is young Ben Affleck” moment.
Richard Linklater, better known recently for his rotoscope work in films like A Scanner Darkly directed this film. And although Dazed and Confused could not be any more different than that film it is very similar in style and feels to his earlier films like Slacker, & the Before Sunrise/Sunset duo. His stile is casual, almost invisible. Dazed and Confused does not feel like a movie it feels like friends hangin’ out.
For all you know you where at this party a few years ago…or maybe in a previous life.
One final note I do have. Girls used to dress so well in the 70s. Someone needs to bring back those long skinny, bell-ended jeans. They look effing sexy.