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Dazed and Confused Review: Effortless Classic

Teenagers stand in front of a colorful wall in Dazed and Confused

Richard Linklater’s easy-going stoner flick Dazed and Confused is immortalized as one of the greatest films to capture the spirit of the 1970s. 

Director: Richard Linklater
Genre: Comedy
Run Time: 103′
US Release: September 24, 1993
UK Release: September 16, 1994
Where to watch: on digital & VOD

Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused has a level of sincerity and realism that perfectly encapsulates the attitude and spirit of 1970s America. Growing up in the 70s in Huston, Texas the film is largely inspired by Linklater’s high school experiences, even lifting the names of some of his real-life classmates to lend to characters within his classic film.

The movie has such an effortless nature and a total sense of identity from the very start, making the characters and world that Linklater has built feel completely tangible and lived in. It feels like a perfectly genuine snapshot of this historical moment of rebellion and unrest in 1970s America, yet it’s themes are timeless enough for any generation to see themselves within this story. 

Dazed and Confused takes place on the last day of school in 1976’s Austin, Texas. The film follows a group of restless teenagers, the majority of whom are rising seniors with a lucky select few rising freshmen hand-picked to hang with the older kids as they drive around their suburban town getting into all kinds of trouble. At the center of the film is Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London), the starting quarterback for the high school’s football team, who is fed up with having to abide by the rules and wanting more than what this town has to offer him.

He, along with the other football players, is asked to sign a pledge to not drink, do drugs or engage in any activity that could interfere with the team’s shot at winning a state championship in the upcoming season. Throughout the run-time of the film, we see Floyd struggle to decide what to do: on the one hand, he wants to play with his friends and clench the title they’ve been working towards their whole lives, on the other he refuses to sign his liberties away to appease the coach’s authority.

As Floyd decides how he wants to end his high school career, we meet Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins) who is at the very start of his as a rising freshman. While initially the target for the harshest hazing treatment from the rising seniors due to his older sister asking them to take it easy on him, Floyd eventually takes the kid under his wing as a prodigy of sorts and lets him tag along throughout the wild night that unfolds. All the rising seniors were looking forward to an epic party at Pickford’s (Shawn Andrews) house, but after the kegs get delivered to his parent’s house, before they leave for a weekend getaway, the plans for the party are dashed and the teenagers spend the night driving and hanging out while drinking beers and smoking pot. 

Teenagers make gestures to the camera in Dazed and Confused
Dazed and Confused (Alphaville Films)

What makes Dazed and Confused such a classic is that, while it is an interesting coming-of-age story, following themes of growing up and deciding who you want to be, it still manages to just be a fun movie. The deep thematic elements are baked into this wild stoner flick that doesn’t take itself too seriously but still manages to make an impactful statement about the confusion and decisions we face in our youth. The movie is able to effortlessly embody the stoned or drunk conversations had among friends ranging from deep and profound to utterly stupid and funny. 

Linklater is the king of creating an atmosphere and an ambiance within his films. He is able to capture these moments that seem utterly out of reach to be able to recreate. It is shocking this movie was made in 1993, given how true to the 70s it feels. His filmmaking has such an ease to it, the worlds he builds feel so natural and raw like he just managed to turn on the camera and capture life and how it plays out. Watching his films, especially Dazed and Confused, you forget about the massive amount of effort, planning and rehearsal that goes into filmmaking. The film feels like he just yelled action and let these kids live their lives, which is also a major ode to the talent of the actors within the film. 

Matthew McConaughey especially gives an unforgettable and endlessly quotable performance. He plays Wooderson, the older, washed-up former high school star who now works for the city after peaking in high school, still hanging with the teenagers and reliving his glory days. McConaughey, however, is able to give this seemingly loser-ish character a sense of depth and sincerity that completely redeems him from his negative traits. Wooderson is the embodiment of the 70s. He’s easygoing, he gets along with everyone and he’s always just looking for a good time. 

What makes Dazed and Confused a great coming-of-age film too is that, while it partially leans into high school stereotypes, no matter how different all the characters may be, they get along well with one another. There is an understanding that all these kids are just figuring it out as they go, not too harshly segregated by cliches or anything entirely superficial. There is such a sense of community and tradition in this fictional high school, all of the characters are united in a mass boredom with their lives and a desire to do something greater. 

In one of the more serious scenes in the film, a band of misfit nerdy-type characters are talking about how they want more from their lives. They talk about how everything they are being taught in school and everything they are preparing for is in the name of this great big, far-off future people in places of authority are constantly alluding to. They decide that they don’t want to view the youth of their life as an insignificant preamble to their future, they want to live in the present and have as good a time as they can while they are in their youth. 

Dazed and Confused (Rotten Tomatoes, Alphaville Films)

This conversation truly embodies the spirit of the film: young people wanting to have fun and enjoy themselves. These teenagers are living in the moment, knowing the future looms in front of them but they are not wanting to lose their youth to constantly worrying about what they will become. 

Linklater’s filmmaking style perfectly underlines the desire these characters have to be present in the moment. He doesn’t harp on the serious topics these teenagers will have to acknowledge one day, but instead expertly mixes in these moments of reality with moments of hilarity. Dazed and Confused has stood the test of time because even though it is so authentic to life in 1970s America, it also perfectly captures the essence of what it’s like to be young and figure out life for the first time. 

Get it on Apple TV

Dazed and Confused is now available to watch on digital and on demand.

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