Dazed and Confused (1993) — a movie review

I missed this movie when it was at the theaters.

I’m not sure why. It was the year I left Rose’s Discount Stores to begin working for another regional retailer, Hills Department Stores, in Lynchburg, Virginia. I may have been busy moving and getting acclimated at my new company. Looking at the 1993 film releases, I see several movies I remember watching in the theater. That was something I used to do as a younger man: go to the movies rather than just renting movies (although I did that, too). So, even if I was working a lot, or moving, or whatever, I still took the time to watch some movies.

Why not this one?

We’ll blame it all on the marketing. Something must not have appealed to me about the advertisements. Or, maybe there was no positive word-of-mouth that actually reached my ears. Until a coworker recommended the movie to me—years later—I didn’t even have preconceived notions about the film. I didn’t recall it being in the theaters at all. Maybe Jerry Falwell did something to keep it out of Lynchburg.

The Good Son, a thriller starring Macaulay Culkin and a pre-Frodo Elijah Wood, was released on the same day as Dazed and Confused. I know I saw that one in the theater. Maybe not on opening day, but, still, in the theater. Dazed and Confused was probably playing on another screen in the same building.

I am also a Led Zeppelin fan. “Dazed and Confused” is one of their songs, and the source of the movie’s title, even though Jimmy Page wouldn’t let Linklater use any of the band’s songs in the movie. Nope. Not even that managed to get my attention at the time.

Fast forward about a decade, and the hardlines team leader at the Target I worked at, who happened to be a friend, saw me looking at the DVD case for this movie on one of our bargain endcaps at the checklanes. Over the years, I picked up a lot of cheap DVDs in this same fashion (using my employee 10% discount and an additional 5% off for using my Target credit card). My friend started talking about the movie, making references that he was sure I would comprehend because who hasn’t seen this great flick, right?

Well, I hadn’t. Hearing my friend quote Matthew McConaughey just sounded a bit creepy and inappropriate.

My friend said, knowing my sense of humor, and the fact that all the main characters were southern high school kids just like I used to be, that he thought the movie would be right up my alley. The movie is also set in 1976, a year that I remember well (the Bicentennial!!), and the soundtrack is classic rock, none of the songs released after 1976. He was right: it did sound like something I would have wanted to be first in line to see. And, yet, I missed it—until years later.

I watched it a couple of times after that first viewing. I mean, I still own the DVD. I watched it recently because it was on Amazon Prime, which is where I watched it this time, even though I own the DVD. I enjoyed it yet again.

Until now, however, I’ve never written a review for this nearly 28-year-old film. Or, I wrote it on the Netflix site I used to post reviews on. In which case, it vanished after Netflix discontinued its review site and later purged its database. So, the end result is the same. I don’t think I ever wrote a review, though.

I did watch other movies by director/writer Richard Linklater, including Slacker and School of Rock. He has an individual style that I like, less plot driven and more focused on character interactions. I’ve read that Kevin Smith was inspired by Linklater’s Slacker to make his movie debut with Clerks (still one of his best).

I’m not burying the lead here (or “lede,” if you’re one of those people): I think that this is a great movie.

For me.

Maybe not for you. Or, maybe it is. A great movie is a great movie. Great movies are often transcendent.

I’m going to tell you about this movie, and why it’s a great movie for me. You can decide if it sounds like your sort of thing.

I’ve already mentioned the music. The first three songs played in the movie are: “Sweet Emotion,” by Aerosmith; “Highway Star,” by Deep Purple; and, “School’s Out,” by Alice Cooper.

I mean, c’mon, man. This is my playlist.

I’m not going to list all the songs, but here’s a list of the other bands and artists on the soundtrack: Black Oak Arkansas; War; Ted Nugent; The Edgar Winter Group; Peter Frampton; Bob Dylan; Foghat; Nazareth; Black Sabbath; Head East; Sweet; ZZ Top; Rick Derringer; KISS; Dr. John; The Runaways; Lynyrd Skynyrd; and, Seals and Crofts.

If you’re even semi-tempted to hear the soundtrack (and you should), this is a good selling point for the movie.

Then there’s the setting. Austin, Texas. 1976. Last day of school before summer break.

This is the nostalgia factor. I remember 1976 quite well. One of my male cousins who lived in Blacksburg, South Carolina, the same town my paternal grandmother lived in, had one of those Spirit of ’76 KISS posters on a wood-paneled wall in his bedroom. I think it was Tony, but it could have been Royce. That was a long time ago. I wasn’t in high school yet. It was the year before Star Wars came out, long before it became Star Wars: A New Hope. It was the same year that Jaws was released. Some of my favorite television shows from that year were The Six Million Dollar Man, Happy Days, and Welcome Back, Kotter. I remember I received a Steve Austin action figure one Christmas. This was when he was bionic, not stone-cold. Plus, I don’t think the term “action figure” had been coined yet: he was a doll. I also had an Evel Knievel figure, which rode a motorcycle and crashed a lot, just like Evel.

I’ve always liked books, movies and television shows set during this particular era of American history. I never visited Texas until 1998 or ’99. I am a true son of the South—a genuine wild-eyed Southern boy—and although Texans are a breed of Southerner that’s unique, there are some traits common to all people who live in what we call “The South.” That’s why I could identify with the Austinites in this story. They are my people. My high school experience wasn’t exactly like what’s depicted here, but it was so similar that it’s spooky.

I can only speak my personal truth, but I’m willing to bet that there are commonalities in everyone’s school experiences, regardless of what part of the United States you were born. I’m probably being unnecessarily exclusive here. I’ve recently enjoyed Sex Education, a Netflix series set in a modern-day UK high school (or whatever high school is called in the UK), and there are things I identify with in that show, in spite of the age gap and our different locations on the globe. So, you may find things that speak directly to your experiences in spite of your home address or the year you were born.

But, if that particular setting—Austin, Texas 1976—and milieu—teenage high school hijinks—appeals to you, that’s another selling point.

I regretted writing “teenage high school hijinks” the moment I punctuated the previous sentence, because that makes this movie sound like Porky’s or Meatballs or films of that ilk. While I believe there is a time and place for raunchy, late-night comedies, that’s not what Dazed and Confused is all about.

While parts of this movie are humorous, the type of humor found here is a natural outgrowth of character. I’m grasping for words here, but I think what I’m trying to say is that this movie is more realistic. More slice-of-life. As a Southern man of a certain age, I can attest that it feels realistic to me.

So, if music and setting don’t do it for you, how about movie stars? I’m going to list a few of the main cast members of this movie. See if you don’t recognize a few names.

Jason London as Randall “Pink” Floyd. London is still a busy working actor. His twin brother Jeremy starred in Kevin Smith’s Mallrats.

Joey Lauren Adams as Simone. Speaking of Kevin Smith. Adams was Smith’s girlfriend for a time and starred as Alyssa Jones in Smith’s Chasing Amy just four years after this movie. She was also in Mallrats, as Gwen.

Milla Jovovich as Michelle. Yes, that Milla Jovovich. Of Resident Evil fame, and about a hundred other credits.

Rory Cochrane as Slater. Our resident stoner in this movie, Cochrane later appeared in Empire Records (another good movie) and had a recurring role on CSI: Miami.

Adam Goldberg as Mike. Even if you don’t know the name, you’d recognize him from his many movie and television credits. He was in Saving Private Ryan, and is currently a cast member of the Queen Latifah-led The Equalizer.

Anthony Rapp as Tony. Although Rapp has had a full career since this movie, on Broadway as well as television and film, he’s known to me primarily as Lt. Cmdr. Paul Stamets, the first openly gay character on a Star Trek series (Discovery). He is also the man who introduced Kevin Spacey to the #MeToo movement, claiming that Spacey made sexual advances towards him when he was just 14 years old.

Cole Hauser as Benny. He was in Good Will Hunting and 2 Fast 2 Furious. He has about fifty other movie and TV credits. He’s currently on the Paramount series Yellowstone. His father is actor Wings Hauser.

Parker Posey as Darla. She’s gone on to an extensive movie and television career. She was in five of Christopher Guest’s movies, including Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show.

Ben Affleck as O’Bannion. If there is a bad guy in this movie, Affleck’s character is it. Also another Kevin Smith fave.

Matthew McConaughey as Wooderson. Sure, you know his name now, but McConaughey was still an unknown in 1993. This movie is the source of all those “Alright, alright, alright” McConaughey impressions you’ve heard.

Dazed and Confused has a huge cast. You’d probably recognize other names that I don’t on the list. Renee Zellweger has an uncredited appearance as a girl in a blue truck. Admittedly, none of these actors were a box office draw at the time this movie was released. But, if you want to see some famous stars before they were famous, this is a good movie to watch.

This movie is a lot like Fast Times at Ridgemont High in that way.

There’s no real plot to this movie. I know some people would argue this point, but I stand by the statement. There’s more of a plot than in Linklater’s Slacker, an effective experimental film that jumped from character to character throughout its running time, but not much more. This movie is structured similarly to Slacker, in fact, although focused almost solely on high school characters. The scenes alternate between different character groupings, as they navigate the last day (and night) of school.

Will Randall Floyd sign the pledge promising not to do drugs over the summer that his football coach wants all the team to sign? Will Fred O’Bannion get to paddle all of the incoming freshmen he wants to paddle? Will incoming freshman Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins) get paddled, will he and his middle school friends get revenge on O’Bannion, and will Mitch fit in with all the older high schoolers? Will Pink and his buddies get Aerosmith concert tickets?

A plot is a list of things that happen to your characters. In some movies that is the most important part. What happens? And then: what happens next? Nothing really important—in the grand scheme of things—happens in this movie. Listening to music, driving around, some pot smoking, a little petty vandalism, an outdoors impromptu keg party, a little bit of fooling around. You know, real life stuff. For some people, what they consider to be the best times of their lives, which is a little sad. I am sometimes nostalgic for similar times in my life, but you couldn’t pay me enough to go back to them.

At some point in this movie, character Randall Floyd says, “If I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life — remind me to kill myself.”

I second that emotion.

My Target friend was correct. This movie seemed tailor-made for a guy like me. If anything I’ve said here makes you want to watch the movie—even just a little bit—then you should.

As for me, I’m going to put the cans over my ears and listen to Foghat’s “Slow Ride.” Just one more time.

Firewater’s Maybe-the-’80s-Will-be-Like-Radical-or-Something Report Card: A

It’ll make you want to haze some freshmen.

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