DAZED AND CONFUSED *** 1/2
Linklater creates and recreates one day in the life of high-schoolers. It is set in a Middle America town, where, in the last day of school, bunches and sub-bunches of seniors-to-be, both male and female, celebrate listlessly. They haze and initiate the future freshmen, ride around in muscle cars, get into minor mischief, and look forward to a big beer blast. Some smoke grass, a few get stoned, most ingurgitate large quantities of beer, and all use constantly a pathetically tiny vocabulary of dirty words.
The year is 1976. The generation is the identity-less, post-Vietnam one that is poised between the hippie, idealistic, politicized, psychedelic 60s and early 70s, and the pragmatic, Me-Me 80s.
Those rites of summer and of passage last 18 hours, until the dawn of the following day. Filmmaker Linklater follows the kids (with some minor inclusions of hapless adults) like an anthropologist who knows his subject by heart.
There is no visible formal structure -- the movie looks just as improvised as the youngsters' meanderings. Yet behind all this, there is careful scripting, of the hard-to-do kind, the kind that conceals the planning.
Using 31 musical selections of or around the period with feeling, humor but no blatant nostalgia, the film moves from person to person, from grouplets to larger ensembles, then returns to certain individuals, brings in a variety of encounters, and establishes the start of new relationships.
The film cleverly stays away from the cliches of characters and situations in teen movies: there are no rebels without a cause, no screaming parents, no gloom or doom or tragic accidents, no villainous or ridiculous teachers, no heavily romantic mutual attractions. On the other hand, notwithstanding the haze of pot and the vapors of beer, there are some nice moments of lucidity.
Everyone and everything is entirely credible and natural in the movie and in the acting by a large, unknown cast -- except perhaps for an unusual proportion of pretty girls and a near-lack of cops.
The film has been and will be compared to "American Graffiti," (1973) which was about brand-new high school graduates in 1962. The points in common are superficial however. "American Graffiti" was about a more innocent time, while director George Lucas's treatment was sweetly sentimental and contained the grain of fantasy that would lead Lucas to "Star Wars."
Linklater, on the contrary, comes from his earlier "Slacker," a free-form film about people who hang out around the University of Texas in Austin. Though less ironical in "Dazed and Confused," Linklater does not spare us the immense emptiness within the kids. But rather than sermonize, the non-judgmental filmmaker watches them with a cool eye, differentiates the homogenized ones from the more original types, locates the individualists within the herd and vice versa, and gets a non-stop variety of funny effects and often hilarious dialogues or opinions out of all this daze and confusion.
October 1993. Copyright Edwin Jahiel