Dazed and Confused
1993, R, 103 min. Directed by Richard Linklater. Starring Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, Rory Cochrane, Matthew McConaughey.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 24, 1993
Dazed and Confused is one of the most exciting movies of this, or any other, year. It's smart, funny, and wonderfully crafted and performed. The movie is structured as a period ensemble piece about a specific group of teenagers on the last day of high school in 1976. But it also functions as a timeless social study of high school character types and a disclosure of commonplace abuses of power in this social system. There are so many points of entry to begin talking about this movie that I can only touch on a few. This is Linklater's follow-up effort to his low-budget independent feature Slacker, which put Austin on the lifestyle map and brought Linklater to the attention of studio executives. While the budget has grown by millions in indie terms, Dazed and Confused is still extremely low-budget in studio terms. The script is a gem, and given the bent of Slacker's freewheeling narrative progression, Dazed's tight plotting and characterizations may catch some viewers by surprise. Ultimately, it makes Slacker look even smarter and less happenstance.
Clearly, Dazed pays some debts to American Graffiti, but it seems to me that it owes more to Over the Edge and old Corman exploitation genres that set up a playful, young-people situation and then introduced an injustice or a power abuse that the group had to resolve. Nothing seems wasted in Linklater's movie. Every shot and every snatch of music contain information which is then paced and assembled with great narrative care.
But the primary thing that makes Dazed and Confused succeed is the characters. This mix of young acting professionals and amateurs manage to pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat. Every one of these characters is completely familiar and recognizable; so far this has held true for every viewer I have spoken with, whether they graduated from high school 25 years ago or last week. There are too many wonderful performances to cite individually here but stand-outs include Cochrane as the stoned doper, Wiggins as the young initiate, Ribisi as the not-unattractive smart girl who knows that there's got to be something more out there and McConaughey as the post-high school has-been who can't get high school out of his blood. His is a character we're all too familiar with in the movies but McConaughey nails this guy without a hint of condescension or whimsy, claiming this character for all time as his own. A lot is going on in Dazed that deserves a wide audience. Let's hope that the promotional strategy of marketing it as a teen drug movie won't narrow its box office chances. The words, “Have another hit” should imply box office, not drugs.
[P.S. to George Morris, who no longer walks amongst the living but accompanies every stride: You'd be real proud of Rick right now. I think you would really love Dazed and Confused – for all it accomplishes and for all it promises. Did you always see this point coming – I mean, back when Linklater was just one of the many odd birds roosting at your parties? Those wonderful parties that collected such a wide assortment of people who all ended up talking movies: rabidly, humorously, argumentatively, lovingly, in pairs, in groups, in bathroom lines. All following your lead, all stimulated by your raving passion. The last one of those parties, George, was at your wake when, per your request, we all gathered at Dobie to watch The Searchers. The post-screening gathering was held at the old Austin Film Society loft above Quackenbush's. Linklater and his director of photography Lee Daniel may be credited as co-founders of the Austin Film Society, but we all know that George Morris was the godfather. In fact, when Slacker came out a couple of years ago, Linklater dedicated the film to your memory. Now, it seems somehow appropriate that the national release of Dazed and Confused is scheduled one day before what would have been your birthday. And, George, this party looks like it could be really big. I know the timing is all coincidental, but the symmetry is like something out of an old movie script. Anyway, George, I think you'd have a good time. Come as you are.]