I have fond memories of the long evenings as a freshman driving or walking around with nothing to do, looking for a party and a cup of beer so we could continue to stand around at that party with nothing to do, that is until we left and continued looking to do nothing.
The cult high school stoner comedy “Dazed and Confused” is just that; it’s a film about feeling out of place, feeling drunk, feeling adventurous, feeling awkward, feeling anxious and yet feeling loved. Some would say that just about sums up the complete high school experience, and Richard Linklater does it in one night.
“I did the best I could while I was stuck in this place,” says one character near the end of the film, which is about all you can ask of a teenager, and possibly all you can ask of a teen comedy. It follows a group of incoming freshman students and incumbent seniors in the twilight hours after their last day of school. The year is 1976, the only shirt with writing on it says Adidas, the drive-in is playing Hitchcock’s “Family Plot,” every kid’s bedroom has a “Dark Side of the Moon” poster on the wall, and Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane” is playing in the night club. Those were the days.
Even the kids seem familiar. All the girls are goofy teases, and all the guys are too cool to care, and yet almost all of them feel like your best friend. They talk the way teenagers should. Linklater’s writing isn’t too witty, and it isn’t too cliche. These are the sorts of people who have silly, off-the-cuff comments about “Gilligan’s Island” and bizarre erotic dreams involving Abraham Lincoln’s head, and then can turn around and get serious when it comes to their pot. Yes, banning it is a sort of Neo-McCarthyism.
Most high school comedies have a way of following only the underdogs and making the hotshots the one-dimensional character actors. “Dazed and Confused” has a deep cast and finds a way to make even the tough guys harassing the freshman likeable. It’s because although there are a bunch of goofy set pieces, “Dazed and Confused” is just self-aware enough to know that the gag isn’t all the initiation idiocy and freshman being treated like trash.
The film has become a cult comedy of sorts, and it seems almost designed to be funnier the more times you watch it. On it’s own, it’s probably not the best high school comedy, the best stoner comedy, the best period piece comedy or possibly even the best Richard Linklater comedy. Something like “American Graffiti” probably checks two of those boxes, and it matches “Dazed” in classic rock soundtracks, bitchin’ cars, aimless plots and before-they-were-famous performances. “Dazed” has young, early film appearances by Parker Posey, Milla Jovovich, Adam Goldberg and Ben Affleck, but it’s most notable star is by far Matthew McConaughey. He derives just about every cliche he’s carried with him throughout his career from this movie. Although now that I think of it, he never did take his shirt off.