Back-To-School Month: "Dazed and Confused" Review

Photo Credit: Gramercy Pictures (I)

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Rating: R (pervasive, continuous teen drug and alcohol use and very strong language)
Length: 102 minutes
Release Date: Sept. 24, 1993
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Genre: Comedy/Drama

"Dazed and Confused," directed by Richard Linklater, was released in 1993. As with Linklater's previous film, "Slacker," "Dazed and Confused" features a plot that is as aimless as the characters in it. However, this format works well for Linklater as it helps make the point of the movie. "Dazed and Confused" follows groups of teenagers as they make the most of their last day of school.

The film is a reminder to adults that although their glory days probably weren't quite as glorious as they remember, they did represent the culmination of their school days. Toward the end of the film, the school's star quarterback, Randall "Pink" Floyd (Jason London) says, "If I ever say these were the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself." His statement is reiterated when his friend, Don, who is played by Sasha Jenson, begins listing the things to remember doing "while [he] was stuck in this place." Don is referring to high school.

The story takes place on May 28, 1976, the last day of school. Next year's seniors embark on a mission to haze and humiliate the upcoming freshman class. The popular girls round up the younger girls and force them to suck pacifiers and relent to being painted with ketchup and mustard. The junior high school girls then pile into the bed of a pickup truck and are taken through a car wash to clean off the condiments. The high school boys acquire large wooden paddles and hunt junior high school boys to hit them with. Aside from the hazing rituals, an end-of-school party is on everyone's mind.

Although "Dazed and Confused" shows the aimlessness of its characters, it also gives the audience insight into what the kids think is important. Viewers see that even though the high school kids think their childish problems are huge, they also see them as ridiculous. Pink is plagued by the notion of signing an agreement with his football coach. The agreement calls on Pink to promise not to use drugs or alcohol during the football season, and Pink is offended by the contract. His buddies want him to see that his decision will affect the entire team.  Mitch Kramer, played by Wiley Wiggins, is obsessively worried about receiving a particularly harsh hazing but ends up taking one for the team, so to speak. After his baseball game, he gives himself up to the seniors for a beating, so that the rest of his team can get away. It's a very adult decision to make. Sabrina, who is played by Christin Hinojosa, makes the difficult decision to disobey her senior tormentors, bringing the seniors' ire upon her but making a bold statement as well. Adam Goldberg's character, Mike, is torn between becoming a lawyer and a dancer. He is also fearful of his own insignificance in the eyes of the alpha males in his life.  The fact that Mitch and Sabrina, two soon-to-be freshmen, end up partying with the seniors who hazed them is a statement about getting through the tough times as best as one can. Linklater follows a group of students for part of their story, and then he follows another group for a while, and so on. He continues to switch points of view among the groups until the entire story ties together. In the end, the audience is left to contemplate what teens go through and how relevant their issues are.  The teenagers proceed to drink beer, smoke pot, and engage in sexual activity throughout the night until they finally put together a huge beer bash. Their biggest priorities are avoiding humiliation, having a party that night, and buying tickets to an Aerosmith concert the next day. As with "American Graffiti," the kids spend most of the night driving around and making observations about life in general.  Slater, played by Rory Cochrane, is tremendously stoned throughout the film. At one point, he states that George Washington grew fields of marijuana that were to be a major cash crop for the South, and Martha Washington had a pipe of marijuana waiting for him when he got home every day. She was the hip lady behind the man, according to Slater.

Matthew McConaughey played David Wooderson, who had already graduated but still hung out with high school kids. David offered his perceived words of wisdom, which were nothing more than his desperation to cling to his social status as a big fish in a small pond. In reality, David is a complete loser, and even his high school fans are aware of this.  Linklater follows many characters throughout the film, and he does a nice job of summing up their exploits in the end.

The statement this movie makes causes the viewers to consider their own high school days as well as those of their children. The story wanders loosely but purposefully. It is a story that is very well told and definitely worth watching.

Stars: 4 out of 5