[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Buy&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B004VLZV1C][/pullquote] Richard Linklater’s second film Dazed and Confused takes a charming and nostalgic look at teenage life in a small town without sanding off the rough edges. Ignoring typical narrative in favour of a roaming camera-view of young peoples’ lives, he carefully presents his views on the archetypes of high school and the variety of potential futures they all have.
It is the last day of school in Austin, Texas in 1975 and a diverse group of kids are contemplating their summer plans. Pink (Jason London) and his football friends are looking forward to the annual right of passage where they get to paddle future freshmen. Mike’s (Adam Goldberg) intelligentsia group are looking for some visceral experiences before the night is out, while others just want to party. Disaster strikes when Kevin’s (Shawn Andrews) parents realise that he’s planning a party and cancel it, forcing the youth of the town to change their plans entirely and try to figure out a way to save the night.
The beauty of Dazed and Confused doesn’t lie in the complex narrative but rather in the interactions between the archetypal characters. There is something for everyone in this hodge podge collection of teenagers all driven under the auspices of burning hormones and excessive drugs and alcohol use.
Pumping with one of the finest 1970s inspired soundtracks going, the real lure of the film is the nostalgic look at the universally shared experience. Coming of age between the ages of 13 and 18 presents us all with the experiences that mold and shape our lives to come and there are always those individual moments of triumph and failure that can haunt us into adulthood. Dazed and Confused presents a number of them, fights, law-breaking, first kisses, failed relationships and condenses them all into one blow-out night. The next day doesn’t matter, these teenagers needs and wants are urgent and they don’t care about the consequences.
Director Richard Linklater employs an almost floating narrative to the film, rarely forcing the clichÃ©d tropes that often infest the lesser coming-of-age drama. All the elements are there, but this isn’t a film about one particular character, this is a fly-on-the-wall look at a group, which carefully highlights the problems with high school life. The cool and popular kids, on the whole are people who adults will recgonise as the losers of adulthood.
They’ve peaked as a teenager and seem to understand that they’re never going to be as popular, powerful and respected as they are now. Characters like O’Banion (Ben Affleck) and Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey) are the alpha males of the area, but they’re also the saddest, most depressing characters, steadfastly refusing to move and acting out through sleazy lusting after younger women or violently attacking younger, smarter and more socially outcasted characters. You feel that they are destined for shuddering mediocrity, that it’s not that far away and that they know it too.
Linklater it appears is a master observer of both the basic tenants of societal humanity and their latter effects. He lures his audience in by showing a seedy underbelly of teenage life in a small town in America, but never overtly judges. He simply presents his characters and their variety of issues and problems with a rose-tinted view of the era. As Pink says If I ever start thinking of these as the best days of my life, please kill me. The sad thing is for a lot of these kids, these really will be exactly that.