There are multiple definitions for what constitutes being considered a cult classic. Normally, these films are revered by an ardent group of people. Duly, these aren’t ‘big-budget’ projects — but rather those centered around dialogue and character development as opposed to special effects.
Growing up in the small town of Alice, Texas, my memories of high school are as follows: Football games, more football games, band trips, parties, prom, and the most celebrated occasion of all…initiation.
Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused is set in a small Texas town — at a time when Aerosmith tickets were the hottest commodity around. It’s the last day of school, and the kids are dealing with their hopes, fears, and the inevitable question every adolescent asks themselves: “Is this all there is?”
As the film starts, we are immediately introduced to the characters in a natural and fluid way. It enables the audience to connect to each individual story. Starting at school — and ending with an over-the-top party in the woods — we follow a large number of teenagers. It ranges from the popular (and not), to the socially inept, and then all the way to the stoners and slackers who inhabit the halls. What I really love about this film is the ability the actors have to improvise and bounce off each other with one-liners and zingers, making even the most conservative person chuckle.
We first meet Randy (Pink) Floyd (played by Jason London). Pink is the star quarterback of the football team — which basically means he is a “God” around school. He’s upset by the fact that his coach insists he sign an agreement stating he won’t partake in any drugs or alcohol during the summer. Seeing that this is a violation of his privacy and personal independence, he refuses to relent to his coach’s request. Meanwhile, the other upperclassmen start preparing for the ‘initiation’ ceremony that will be taking place after school. Paddles are being made in wood shop, the beer has been bought, and threats have been made. The girls are led by school sadist Darla (Parker Posey). She proceeds to serve the incoming freshmen a huge side of humiliation — as she sprays them with ketchup, raw eggs, and flour.
Meanwhile Pink’s interest is now focused on one of his classmates and fellow “popular” Jodi Kramer (Michelle Burke), who’s worried about the hazing that’s to come of her little brother Mitch. Mitch (Wiley Wiggins) is the heart of this film. A star baseball player, he just wants to survive and escape his fate that is to come once that school bell rings for the day.
As the film cruises by, we are introduced to Mike (Adam Goldberg), Tony (Anthony Rapp), and Cynthia (Marissa Ribisi). They are the quintessential “play-by-the-rules” type of friends. All three exude an air of pretentiousness when compared to their fellow classmates. They look down on parties and the riffraff around them…until they were invited to the party later that night.
Then there is Slater (Rory Cochrane). Slater is lovable, thoughtful, philosophical, and the biggest stoner in the school. He hangs around primarily with the jocks, but also migrates from group-to-group hoping to divulge a bit of knowledge he so adamantly believes is truth. With lines like, “George Washington was in a cult, and the cult was into aliens, man.” and the ever-famous “All right, check ya later!” Slater is and will forever be one of the most quoted characters in this film.
After the initiation (which poor Mitch endures the harshest and longest of all thanks to his big sis), we are introduced to the other iconic character in this film, Wooderson. Played by the talented and then-unknown Matthew McConaughey, his role in Dazed and Confused was undoubtedly his breakout performance. Wooderson is that creepy older guy we all knew too well; the guy who graduated years ago and still insists on hanging out with high school kids. He’s that guy.
McConaughey is brilliant in this role — with his laid back stature and now well-known southern drawl of an accent. He is truly the scene-stealer of this whole film. He picks up girls at the local pool bar and drives around in his 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle. McConaughey’s character has only one philosophy in life: “Just keep livin’.”
Dazed and Confused has this unique ability to not take itself too seriously. It has an enjoyable, playful spirit that Linklater has created through the dialogue and progression of each character. He captures the texture and the details of the 1970’s era without forcing it or creating a parody. It doesn’t go for the bubble-gum nostalgia similar to Grease, or that high school is absolute hell like in Mean Girls.
Instead, it shows us a high school where kids try to do the best they can while they’re stuck there. Essentially, it doesn’t fall into the realm of a cliché. It also doesn’t romanticize the adolescent life. Simply put, it hits the perfect balance. It’s real life, and real life is just so much funnier.
No matter the time, no matter the age, this cult-classic will live on as one of the greatest coming-of-age stories of all time…and to that I say, “Alright Alright Alright.”
Image Source: Chicago Tribune