Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive, Continuous Teen Drug and Alcohol Use and very Strong Language
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater
Starring: Jason London, Wiley Wiggins, Rory Cochrane, Matthew McConaughey, Sasha Jenson, Michelle Burke, Adam Goldberg, Cole Hauser, Milla Jovovich & Ben Affleck
Movies don’t always need a well-crafted plot or intensely developed characters to be enjoyed. DAZED AND CONFUSED is a coming-of-age comedy that flourishes on capturing teenage life and high school drama, all through the lens of 1976. The cast of characters is immense and the audience doesn’t necessarily receive a lot of time to fully “know” them as intimately as we might like to, but we do get a sense of who these kids are through their conversations and social interactions. Even though the script may not have a traditional narrative in following characters from point A to point B, Richard Linklater’s third feature feels like an authentic slice-of-life captured on film.
It’s May 28, 1976. Lee High School’s future seniors are excited for a summer filled with underage drinking, philosophical discussions fueled by pot smoke, and an upcoming Aerosmith concert. Randall Floyd (Jason London) is a football player being pressured to sign a drug-free pledge that would alienate him from his friends. Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins) is an incoming freshman who’s trying to avoid being paddled by all of the future male seniors, one of whom (Ben Affleck) is particularly abusive. Kevin Pickford (Shawn Andrews) is a popular student hosting a huge end-of-school keg party. Ron (Rory Cochrane) and David (Matthew McConaughey) are two stoners who enjoy having pseudo-intellectual conversations about history, presidents, and aliens. Cynthia (Marissa Ribisi), Tony (Anthony Rapp) and Mike (Adam Goldberg) are three nerds looking to socialize. All of these subplots collide, along with a few others, over one school-free night in Austin, Texas.
Seeing as the narrative is all over the place with many interconnected plotlines, I won’t necessarily analyze each and every one of these in-depth. What I will say is that all of these plot threads seem believable. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to discover out that some of the scenes were taken directly out of Richard Linklater’s personal experiences. There’s an honesty in how the film progresses. Every scene feels organic and none of the interactions between characters feel forced. There are definitely plot threads that I wish had gone on a bit longer (Ben Affleck’s bully left the film too soon and a tiny bit of momentum goes with him). This is a minor complaint though, especially when you consider how well-written the dialogue is and the sheer entertainment factor, both of which are what this film thrives on.
DAZED also has a solid cast of big names in early roles. I already mentioned Ben Affleck as the school bully and he’s a ton of fun to watch, but Matthew McConaughey steals the show as laid back twenty-something David Wooderson. With a perpetually relaxed demeanor and slightly quirky persona, McConaughey’s iconic stoner is the best character in this film…even though he receives far less screen time than his counterparts. Rory Cochrane receives a lot of laughs as the long-haired, conspiracy-obsessed, pot-smoking Slater. Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp and Marissa Ribisi all have good chemistry as the three nerdy friends. Other big names include Milla Jovovich, Cole Hauser, Parker Posey, and a non-speaking Renee Zellweger.
It’s a bit depressing that the two main stars of this film haven’t really gone on to do much since this 1993 coming-of-age stoner comedy, those being Jason London as Randall Floyd and Wiley Wiggins as Mitch Kramer. That’s not to say that either of their performances are lacking, because that is in no way the case. Actually, Jason London brings a sentimentality to his story arc as his coach tries to force him to choose between football or his friends. Wiley Wiggins adds innocence to the story as the awkward new freshman experiencing his first night of alcohol, pot, and older girls. It might be argued that these two storylines shine above their entertaining counterparts and the film is all the better for both of them.
The solid writing and good performances are capped off with a stellar soundtrack (Aerosmith, Foghat, Alice Cooper, KISS, Black Sabbath, and many more) and production values that convincingly bring 70’s suburbia to life (including bad fashion and nice cars). DAZED AND CONFUSED isn’t necessarily a straightforward comedy that’s loaded with set pieces and a traditional narrative. Richard Linklater wanted this film to be AMERICAN GRAFITTI relocated to the 70’s and I’d say that he succeeded on that front. Though certain actors definitely outshine others and I wish that a few plot threads had received more screen time, DAZED AND CONFUSED is a whole lot of fun. Even when the film seems to be wandering aimlessly, I was never bored. As a result, watching DAZED AND CONFUSED feels like hanging out with a handful of very good friends and should be enjoyed as such.