Dazed And Confused

****1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Dazed And Confused
"This is an ensemble triumph, somehow made all the more amiable by its general lack of earth-shattering incident." | Photo: Universal

If some films for and about teenagers seem all too aware of their mortality, the kids in Richard Linklater's early feature are living like there's no tomorrow. It's the early summer of 1976 in Texas, school is just about to let out and there's the smell of weed and a party blowing in on the wind. The central characters here think the 70s "suck" and yet somehow there's a nostalgia running through this film like a stick of rock, even though Linklater has said he intended it to be an "anti-nostalgic movie" and undercuts the self-perceived coolness of many of the characters - but then there's no nostalgia like the nostalgia that can be generated for a period you didn't actually live through.

Treading similar ground to that brought to the screen a couple of decades earlier in George Lucas's early Sixties-set American Graffiti, this is an ensemble triumph, somehow made all the more amiable by its general lack of earth-shattering incident.

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Linklater takes us roaming after school with various kids - from junior high-schoolers facing hazing by the soon-to-be-seniors who are on the hunt with them, armed with homemade bats to the younger girls, who are being given a hazing of their own by their older counterparts. The group is loosely connected by easygoing youngster Randall "Pink" Floyd (Jason Floyd) and the much younger Mitch (Wiley Wiggins) as they hang out and experience the sort of minor dramas, like a first drink or snog, that most people can relate to. There's brutality here but there's also a sense of budding comradeship, with some of the youngsters going on to be initiated into the partying world of the older kids later that night. It's a film built on those sorts of contradictions, so that there's also a mocking of these traditional shenanigans provided by a slightly geeky chorus ofTony (Anthony Rapp), Mike (Adam Goldberg), and Cynthia (Marissa Ribisi), who are paradoxically also kind of desperate to party.

Linklater has always had a loose way with films, even though he's a stickler for rehearsal, using improvisation to help add to the mood and allowing unremarkable events to take centre stage. He also, famously, adjusted the characters on the hoof here, so that the actors who weren't quite gelling - Parker Posey, Shawn Andrews - had their roles reduced, while Matthew McConaughey found himself with a much bigger part than he bargained for.

It's hard to believe it's McConaughey's first feature, as he slips effortlessly under the skin of the older Wooderson - whose loves are weed, women and his flashy car, although in which order, who knows. He plays him as just the right mix of sleazy and cool, allowing us to see why the younger kids are drawn to him at the same time as realising he's a bit of a loser in his spare time.

There's the autobiographical ring of truth to all this, just as there was to American Graffiti - and the soundtrack doesn't miss a beat, with everything from Aerosmith and Foghat to War and Alice Cooper cropping up at what always seems to be the perfect moment. The other joy of it being an immersive period piece is that it doesn't age with the passing years, unlike the rest of us. These kids may be just hanging out - but we want to hang with them. After all, it's sometimes the little things in life that end up meaning a lot when we glance at them in the rearview mirror.

Reviewed on: 15 Aug 2020
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It's the last day of school and the kids are ready to party.

Festivals:

SSFF 2012
Glasgow 2015

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