Sometimes a movie is just cool; and Richard Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused” is the coolest movie ever made. When school was let out to Alice Cooper announcing, “School’s out for summer!” that was the moment that the bar was raised for high school based movies. John Hughes may have defined the genre in the decade preceding Linklater, but it was “Dazed and Confused” that modernized the genre for a new generation of kids and their parents.
Set during the last day of school in 1976, “Dazed and Confused” follows the lives of the incoming freshmen and seniors in a small Texas town. Like Linklater’s earlier film “Slacker,” there isn’t a real plot. But “Dazed and Confused” is a film that fills the screen with interesting characters before it takes the audience and throws us into the deep end. We’re so close to the characters that a contact high can always be felt.
The most memorable is Matthew McConaughey’s character Wooderson, the oldest of the ensemble whose motto is, “I get older and they [high school girls] stay the same age. Yes they do. Yes they do.” This isn’t just a throwaway line that is nearly cringe worthy, this is a way of life. There are entire groups of people who live by that line all across the globe. By that one line, Linklater defined that entire character. The coolness, the sadness and the lack of self-worth. But I digress.
There’s also Ben Affleck’s obnoxiously hilarious O’Bannion. It’s concerning how well Affleck is in this role, it’s as if he’s enjoying being the dick of the world. This character loves the hazing ritual of chasing down the freshmen to paddle them so much, that he failed – whether or not it was deliberate will never be known – just so he can do it again.
But perhaps that’s what makes the characters so lovable. The actors are all having fun with their character because these people exist in every high school across America. We all know – or knew – a Slater. Some might have even been the Slater of their school.
What sets “Dazed and Confused” aside from other teen movies is that everything is low-stakes. No one is trying to finally tell the cheer captain that they love them or become the popular kid, they’re just trying to have some fun. There’s mention of getting Aerosmith tickets but there’s nothing that will really happen if they don’t get them. And speaking of popularity, like in real high schools (or at least in my high school) there is no real sense of social order. Everyone mingles amongst each other. The nerds hang out with the jocks and the motor-heads hang out with the stoners. The only reason that these classes exist is because the adults believe they exist. Just goes to show how dumb being part of a group is. Sure there may be fights but they aren’t real. We can coexist without any problems.