Dazed and Confused takes place in an alternate universe where parties have no consequences, police let you off with a warning even if you have multiple violations of the law, parents don’t punish their children, and characters don’t get any development until their very last scene, unless they don’t get any at all. Or maybe that’s just how the 70’s were. Regardless, I just successfully described Dazed and Confused in one sentence. Pass the booze and let’s have a party, man.
We begin with the final day of school classes in 1976. Everyone is planning to go to a party at one student’s house while wasting away their day at school. Some kids skip, other spend the day just chatting it up with one another. At the end of the day, it’s time for future freshmen to get the stuffing either beaten or embarrassed out of them. The males get a paddle to their derrière, while the females get to be abused by the senior high students of the same gender. No adults intervene, we’re told, even though some of this happens on school grounds. A different time, right?
I’m not even going to get into the cast or characters, because there are too many to list. But if you can think of a stereotypical high school student, whether it be a jock, nerd, stoner — they’ll all be included. That’s not to say that they aren’t all interesting people, because they are, but it seemed like they were all included just because these types of characters are always included in high school movies. I spoke too soon though: This isn’t just a high school movie though, as there are a few junior high student who also get in on the action. One of them is prominently featured, both in being whacked with a paddle and being invited to the party to end all parties.
There is a party, but there isn’t much of a plot. Oh, each character has an arc that they follow, but the majority of them only get three scenes to finish it. The first scene introduces them and their situation, the second is further development, and the final scene concludes it. This isn’t enough time spent with all of the people to see them as anything more than stock characters, even though some of them seem like they’d be fun to spend more time with. This is a problem that a lot of ensemble films face — one that many are unable to overcome.
Dazed and Confused does a very good job of setting an atmosphere and making us feel like we’re in the setting that is chosen. Here, it’s small-town America in 1976. Everything from the cars, to the hairstyles to the amazing soundtrack screams “1970’s,” and I was quite enjoying taking the trip back through time, even if I did end up hearing the word “man” far more than I ever needed to.
The finale — the party — is probably the highlight of the film, as it should be. It’s here where a lot of the characters actually change, although since they were all incredibly drunk, we have no idea whether or not these changes will stick. I like to believe they will, even if we aren’t given any indication. But at this one locale, we see different sets of characters interacting for the first time, and this is fun for us.
However, most of the film isn’t fun. Not a lot happens, and the things that do happen end up being unenjoyable. These characters are all flawed in some ways, and it’s hard to like most of them. They’re interesting, and we want to see what they’ll do in any given situation, but their actions do not make them endearing. This doesn’t make the film bad, but since this is essentially a coming-of-age film for a whole group of people, and since the payoff isn’t all that great, it means that it feels that there’s a lot of wasted potential here.
Despite being listed as a comedy wherever I look, Dazed and Confused did not often make me laugh, at least, no more than many dramas and action films do. It’s a life film, one that takes place over the course of one day (and night) and tells the stories of a bunch of teenagers (and one creepy adult played by Matthew McConaughey). The dialogue isn’t often funny, and the situations weren’t funny at all; instead, they felt realistic given the time this film was set during.
Even if the dialogue isn’t funny, it is smart. This is a film that treats its adolescents just like adults, with the younger characters actually speaking just as, if not more, intelligent than the older ones. And considering you’re talking about a film where most of the characters are rarely sober, this felt weird, but I still liked it. These aren’t characters that are dumbed down just so that it seems like they’re younger. They’re given respect by writer/director Richard Linklater, and I think this is why it ultimately succeeds as a film.
Despite having its fair share of problems, I easily forgave most of them because of how interesting Dazed and Confused is. Maybe it’s just entertaining to see smart kids having fun, but in the end, I had quite a good time with this film. At the end of the day, that’s really what you want when watching a movie about other people enjoying themselves. This is a film that captures the essence of the ’70s, and what it was like to be a teenager during that time. While the talented cast doesn’t get all that much time to develop their characters, I liked watching them work. All in all, it was an entertaining film that you should give a watch.