Thursday, May 22, 2014

Movie Review #16: Dazed and Confused

Dazed ad Confused is one of those movies that Jeff has been trying to get me to watch pretty much ever since we met. It's clear that he has a lot of emotional ties to the movie and, as with any movie he's so attached to, he really just wants someone else to watch it so he can talk about it with them.

So, I finally watched it. Short review: it was a fun movie with lots of moving parts. With so many different, well-rounded characters you'll no doubt form a connection with at least a few of them and enjoy the journey they take.


It's the last day of school in 1976, and kids are already having to decide on their roles for the next year: seniors are hazing the new class, deciding their futures, and getting ready for the best year of their lives. Freshmen are either accepting their hazing or running from it, determining their standing as they move on to their final phase of public school.


Dazed and Confused is a movie about transition. Growing up, there was no clearer transition than when the school year was over and you had to begin preparing for the next year: new classes, new responsibilities, sometimes even a new school. Every year was a new opportunity to reinvent yourself over the course of a summer, a chance to come back the next year almost unrecognizable from the person you were before.

Dazed and Confused captures that thrill of the end of a school year perfectly. It's truly amazing how similar it felt, even nearly three decades after the movie takes place (1976), and ten years after the movie itself was made (1993). The movie managed to capture something universal within the American experience, and for that alone it's kind of magical.

It's also pretty amazing that a movie with this many young actors managed to not be awful. Each of the characters is played convincingly well, especially the leads. Most of the characters felt very three-dimensional, which prevented a lot of the stereotyping I tend to expect from a high school film: there were "jocks," but they weren't all jerks about it. There were "geeks," but they weren't all arrogant, weak little misanthropes. The characters related to each other or not on an individual level.

The movie shares many similarities with American Graffiti, it having been pitched as "American Graffiti, but in the 70s," but it mixed in the concept of a "party movie" into the small town transitional movie, and I believe that "party movie" aspect influenced a lot of movies in the late 90s and onward.

Can't Hardly Wait comes to mind in particular: it shares that transitional period theme, has a party, shifts rapidly from one character's story to another, showing how they intertwine, and several of the characters from the ensemble cast went on to do good stuff beyond that movie.

Anyway, if you ever want to be transported back to high school, with all the awkwardness and forced closeness that entails, Dazed and Confused is the movie for you. To some it may seem like a fond look back at fun times, but for others it will be a reminder of a time when all you wanted to do was get away. The movie explores both concepts; another thing that makes it work.

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