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Movie Reviews

Dazed and Confused  

Rare is the teen film which shows teenagers engaging in activities other than drinking, partying, getting high, and other forms of mass murder on many poor innocent brain cells. Dazed and Confused is no different - but it does at least make a valiant attempt to give us a genuine slice of life, as opposed to merely pandering to a teenage audience.
The entire film takes place during the evening and the next morning following the last day of school. We follow numerous characters. One, played by Jason London, makes a protest of sorts against the football coach's demand that he and the other teammates sign a pledge to abstain from drugs, drink, and other illegal activity. A bunch of guys, led by Ben Affleck, haze the upcoming freshmen by swatting them with paddles, and a bunch of girls, led by Parker Posey, haze the freshmen girls in other humiliating ways. There's numbers of stoners, thugs, nerds and brains in the mix. And the overall arc involves the unforeseen undoing of one party and the emergence of another. No tragedies occur, no real problems arise; merely a bunch of teenagers looking for a good time, and a good way to kick off the summer.

Clearly, Dazed and Confused is a very loosely structured film. Many people complain that it has no plot. I, on the other hand, think every movie has a "plot" or "story" (if it didn't, there would literally be no movie, would there?), so, of course, this movie does too. The setting and the environment are the story; the combined details of everything these characters do, where they live, and how they behave is the plot. This film is very reminiscent of Altman's 1970's work, especially M*A*S*H, in that there is more going on beneath the low comedic surface, and, also, that Linklatter downplays the standard comedic set-ups in the script and instead gives us a documentary. Dazed is nowhere near as strong as M*A*S*H, but, boy, does Linklatter try.

His best scenes involve the hazing that the seniors inflict on the freshmen. Altman would be proud of the shot in which freshmen girls are forced to lie on the ground while the senior girls spray ketchup, mustard and other delicacies on them before tying leashes around their necks, all to the tune of "Why Can't We Be Friends?". There are also many scenes of Ben Affleck and friends whupping everybody's butt real good. These scenes are very interesting because they all very subtly make a strong point - all of the freshmen make a pose of objecting to the heartless abuse, but they play along with it. The women could run away, the young kid could try to avoid being paddled, but they don't. Why? Perhaps it's because they feel they are weaker, so they know they can't fight back. Or...... maybe it's because by subjecting themselves to this torture, they will be introduced to the best years of their lives, and will (in their minds) be just as cool as the kids who haze them. It's no mistake that, during the ball game, the kid throws an particularly persuasive final pitch, and literally walks to the thugs with the paddles. He's hoping that his life will get more interesting..... and, sure enough, it does, if you find such things.... interesting.

Dazed and Confused can be seen both ways: as an accurate portrait of all the fun hijinks teenagers get into, or as an accurate portrait of just how damn boring and uncreative those teenagers are. It's that kind of movie. (And guess which portrait I'd be more impressed with??)

The fact is that this movie has a cult following, not among arty film fanatics who go for subtle character studies, but among the very types of people depicted in this film. My own teenage brother, and his friends, love this movie, because "it's one big party!". Not exactly puritans, of course. And years ago, at the university campus pub, I attended a showing of this film, and, believe me, there were a lot of drunken frat boys (and girls) who certainly were entertained.

This is all rather funny to me, because I didn't believe for one second, while I was at the campus bar, or this time, that Richard Linklatter made this movie so he could join the party. If he did, the film would appear much more exciting; if you, like me, do not engage in such lifestyles, you may find this film extremely boring. The film plods along, without flashy direction, or heavy drama - basically, nothing happens. But then again, that may be precisely the point. If one can look at it objectively, one can see that these supposedly essential events are all rather pointless, and that the film knows this. (Another stipulation seems to be that, because Linklatter also directed SubUrbia, a film which, from what I've heard, is much, much more critical, there's even more reason to expect that he finds these dazed and confused kids less than virtuous). But the teenagers who like this film, and the prudes who don't, obviously take this film at face value, and don't pay attention to what goes on behind the dialogue and the actions. And there are also a lot of people who think M*A*S*H is just a bunch of funny (or pointless) and raunchy hijinks strung together haphazardly.

Also, it is clear that if this film, directed in exactly the same way, with equally accurate performances (almost all the actors, especially London, Affleck, and the young kid who gets paddled, hit their notes perfectly), with an equal attention to detail, was about anything other than teenagers going to parties, these supposedly intelligent teenagers would believe that this film would be about the most boring piece of crap that Hollywood has going. Clearly, the only reason these people like this film is because almost everybody smokes pot. Score another victory for the public school system!

Overall, the film is not judgmental enough to annoy most teenagers, or to make me fully satisfied. I think the film should have been more willing to exploit the boredom these kids engage in; most of the time, the film just ambles on, showing us reality, but not quite spilling over into astounding truth, although the ending is just ambiguous enough that you can either take it as meaning absolutely nothing, or absolutely everything. Dazed and Confused is a unique film, and should not be dismissed or taken lightly.

David Macdonald

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