Dazed and confused is a drama, comedy film directed by Richard Linklater starring Matthew McConaughey, Jason London, Rory Cochrane and Wiley Wiggins. This evaluation will be based on the film’s capability to fulfil the criteria of plot, cast, direction and humor
The film is an uproarious, unpretentious and absorbing revelation of high school life as it used to be in the 1970s. If such a genre as reality television had existed in the 20th century, then Dazed and confused would fall in this category and outshine all the cliché ridden ‘reality’ that we see today on television. The film bears some similarities to an earlier, more successful film “Fast Times at Ridgemont high” directed by Amy Heckerling which also aims to show the different perspectives of high school life exhibited by different characters within the film. However, in the comparison between the two films, it was noted that Linklater did not manage to present a clearer picture of these perspectives by ensuring a diversity between the characters and a prominent story line that was apparent throughout the film as Heckerling did. However, given the later release date of Linklater’s work, he managed to provide a very realistic picture of the 1970s for which he deserves credit.
The film does not seem to have a clear plot as can be seen in the summary below. Formulation of a storyline would have enhanced the viewing experience and made audiences that were not familiar with the dynamics of American high school establish a connection with the characters. However, it compensates for this by having an incredible cast. One may be tempted to watch the movie for the sheer presence of Matthew Mcconaughey, a seasoned actor cast as Wooderson. It begins on the last day at Lee high school which is in the suburbs of Austin Texas. The seniors are seen lurking outside the freshmen classroom, paddles in hand ready to participate in the violent initiation ritual for every required for every freshman through the symbolic paddling of freshmen posteriors. The freshmen are hunted and paddled and although some of them manage to escape such as Mitch and his friend Carl they are even more violently paddled when they are cornered after a baseball game. The seemingly ridiculous display of unabated violence and ‘butt whacking’ leaves you roaring with laughter, breathless, gasping for air and with an almost nostalgic feeling is testament of an incredible screenplay and hands on direction by Linklater.
As the evening festivities drag on, the inebriated teenagers make new friends, experiment with sex, try to find meaning in their lives and fail tremendously without a doubt. As was noted, the cast was chosen perfectly but one is compelled to notice the incredible chemistry between the Jason London and Wiley Wiggins. Jason London so effectively embodies the character of an adored high school Jock, resentful of authority, oblivious of rules and desperate to master his own autonomy in the face of mounting pressure from peers and teachers. This comes out so clearly in his interaction with Mitch (Wiley Wiggins), who is a sweet spirited freshman just starting to understand the dynamics of high school life and teenage mischief in general. In his review, Desson Thomson is first to point out the outstanding performances by these two characters.
Fred O’Bannion’s character, represents a unique and perhaps the only semblance of a learning experience that can be presented in this film. He is so committed to initiation rituals and is so quick to pick on those he feels are incredibly vulnerable and would be most affected by these experiences. However, he appears to be the most troubled and as Roger Ebert states in his review, hiding feelings of alienation and lacks a sense of belonging to the group he is so keen to initiate others to. The fact that he had failed to graduate in the previous year is testament of this. But despite this layered representation of his character, Linklater does not provide any chance for the characters to display any sort of empathy for him, which is a failing on his part. As the night and the film draws nearer to an end, the teenagers smoke more Marijuana on the 50 yard line before the police arrive and disrupt the party. They call his coach who proceeds to lecture him on the importance of staying away from ‘losers’ and signing the pledge that prohibits him from engaging in any drug taking or activities that might jeopardize the football team’s chance at a championship during the summer. However, Pink is an assertive young man and insists on continuing to exercise his rebellious spirit. Pink, Wooderson, Slater and two other friends leave to get tickets to an Aerosmith concert while Mitch goes back home. To affirm the opinion of Roger Ebert who in his review says that the film has no imposition of a plot and ends in moments of truth that are not presented hard enough to have any significant impression on audiences that were less concerned with finding meaning but sought to enjoy the playful entertainment guaranteed by this film.
The humor in the film is almost completely achieved in the direction and the writing is generally the meaningless chatter of high school teenagers. Perhaps the most compelling and uproariously funny scene in this movie according to me would be when a resident brandishing a gun threatens to call the police on Pink, Mitch and David for playing a spirited game of baseball targeting his mailbox. He proceeds to fire at the car and they barely manage to escape his rage. This scene is perhaps the biggest testament of Linklater’s unique and exemplary directing.
The depiction of 1970s life and culture was found to be as realistic as was possible for a film made in the 20th century. In a review in the Washington post, Desson Thomson points out that this film so perfectly reflects American culture in the 70s. Sentiments that are hard not to share as the film presents numerous opportunities for the viewer to get a grasp of the scenery of that age in as accurate a way as could have been possible. The wide bottomed pants, the lack of structure in school administration and the ritual bullying is testament to this. It is not the objective of Linklater to show divergent definitions of embarrassment presented by teenage boys and girls or present any useful information that would assist in understanding the dynamics of teenage relationships. Perhaps the idea is to present life as it was, to provide an opportunity for the viewers to draw their own conclusions or just sit back and abandon efforts to find meaning or acquire knowledge from the film.
In a review published in the San Francisco chronicles, Michael Snyder is quick to bring this out in his evaluation without the need to belabor as he says, it is as if Linklater has somehow managed to master time travel and bring us back to an age where American teenagers spent their time hanging out in Emporiums not online, enjoyed the seemingly excessive violence presented by bonding and initiation rituals such as hazing, paddling and participated in all the delights of teenage mayhem. It can therefore be said that this film presents an incredibly realistic scenery that was difficult to achieve in other high school themed films.
In his review on ReelViews, James Berardinelli is keen to point out the light entertainment presented by the film along with its failure to present anything groundbreaking or noteworthy. Some critics may share these sentiments as the unstructured nature of the film and the absence of a definite plot or storyline robs one of the opportunity to make connections with the characters. This in turn makes the whole viewing experience pointless and devoid of the emotional engagement associated with other romanticized versions of high school life. However, it should be noted that these sensationalized Hollywood stories provide no real opportunity to reminisce as that presented by this film and to further contradict this review it can be concluded that the entertainment presented is overwhelming as long as the audience relates with the experiences of the characters in the film. Furthermore, to contradict another review by Elvis Mitchell of the New York Times who points out that the film lacked structure, it is not difficult to deduce that the aim of the director was to present the realities of being a teenager in the 70s in as much structure as real life can have. This can even be clearly deduced from the title of the movie.
In conclusion, a rating of 4.0 out of five would be most appropriate for this film. It is without a doubt a humorous American film, with an incredible cast, exemplary direction and has many relatable aspects to it especially to audiences that attended high school in the 70s but it is clear to see that the need for a plot was overshadowed by the quest for realism in the scenery. The absence of a clear storyline makes the events in the film difficult to follow and they register in a haphazard and chaotic manner in the minds of audiences that could not relate to this particular high school experience.
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