After doing a few more serious films for the past 2 months in this Blindspot series, I wanted to do something a bit lighter for this month and, seeing as how his most recent film has just seen it’s UK release, I decided to tackle Dazed and Confused. Now I consider Richard Linklater to be one of my favourite directors. His eclectic style, going from films like the more fun School of Rock to more serious fare like Boyhood and the Before trilogy, has fascinated me for years, along with the way he uses time in his films and whenever I’ve seen people talk about Linklater’s best films, Dazed and Confused often ends up at the top and now that I’ve seen it, I can understand why.
The hard thing about describing the plot of Dazed and Confused is that there isn’t really a plot, the film is more a series of vignettes based around the last day of high school for a group of students and the antics they get up to. There are a few plot strands such as the hazing that those starting high school in a few months are going to receive, parties that are planned to be held and the conflict over a football player having to sign a pledge not to take drugs during the summer to avoid jeopardising his football skills. However, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. This style of plot allows an atmosphere to build regarding the nature of the 70s and of high school life, not romanticising it like other films. The title is especially apt as the characters don’t really have any drive, they are just dazed and confused about their lives, most notably the character of Randall Floyd, a star football player who doesn’t have passion for the sport. The film also does a good job showing how the initiation rituals are pretty sadistic and those who enjoy doing them and don’t feel sorry for the people going through them are sadistic and pathetic, mainly with Fred O’Bannion, the one who takes the most glee out of paddling the newcomers and it’s shown he failed to pass his final year with this being the second year he’s done the action. For the rest of the characters, it’s clear the only reason they are doing it is because it was done to them and the general attitude of acceptance by the community at large is commented on with bewilderment, you’re left wondering how this whole system was meant to operate. This is part of the main strength of the film, that being it’s writing. The conversations the characters have, often fuelled by beer and weed, offer a great insight into the lives of teenagers in the 1970s, the conversations they have about their lives and their futures feeling really natural. It’s hard to explain exactly why it works so well because so much of it is based in the atmosphere that is developed throughout the film by Linklater of the time and atmosphere is the hardest thing to describe.
The performances in the film are great as well. Jason London as Floyd does a great job showing the coming of age aspect of the character, his general kindness and a sense of fun and concern over the pledge not to jeopardise the football team. A great iconic performance is also given by Matthew McConaughey as Wooderson, he’s got this great, relaxed atmosphere throughout the film, his delivery of the dialogue being a lot of fun to listen to. Meanwhile, Ben Affleck does a great job playing the arsehole O’Bannion, showing the sadistic nature of the character and when he gets his commupance it’s very satisfying. Wiley Wiggins is also great as Mitch Kramer, the coming of age aspect of the film best exemplified by his performance in the film. Fun performances are also given by Parker Posey, Rory Cochrane, Milla Jovovich, Michelle Burke, Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp, Marissa Ribisi and Shawn Andrews. These performances feel believable, perfectly creating the end of high school environment of the 70s and creating the atmosphere of the film. It’s actually quite hard to talk about the performances because they are all really subtle, it’s the little details about the performances that create the atmosphere in the film.
One thing that becomes clear from the start of the film is that Linklater has a great ear for music. Every single song used in this film, mined from the best of 70’s rock, is excellent and all of them fit the tone of the film. It’s hard to imagine any of the scenes in the film occurring without the music that accompanies it. It’s easy to see why Linklater spent 1/6 of the budget for the film on the music, if any of these songs was removed from the film, a lot of the fun and dramatic weight of the film would have been lost. The period detail recreated in the film is spot on as well, mainly with the costume design, all of the costumes evoking the characters and the overall environment being a great replica of 70s Austin.
Overall, it’s easy to see why this is the film that launched Richard Linklater to the popular culture. This is a incredibly entertaining film that does a great job of replicating the environment of the 1970s but behind this fun is a great coming of age story that has some great things to say about how the environment of high school is seen in the wider culture and the nature of individuality and discovering yourself for the first time. This is easily one of Linklater’s best films, and considering that he has films like the Before trilogy, School of Rock and Boyhood under his belt, that’s the best compliment I can give.
My Rating: 5/5