Some things are great forever…some have an expiration date. For this fact alone, some “All-Time Greats” need a serious reality check to see if they still stand up or can still be considered great at this present time. Enter “The Wiz Retro Rewind,” where The Wiz re-examines some important and beloved films to see if it’s still good, still relevant or if could be expanded upon or updated.
Teen flicks, high school movies, coming of age stories: tons of them are made, sometimes multiple times in a year. It also seems like with each and every different high school movie, there is a specific subset that has a different movie they feel defines them. 90’s kids will likely pick 10 Things I Hate About You, She’s All That or Can’t Hardly Wait for films that were set at the same time period. (They would be wrong, because it’s actually Election). 80’s teen flicks were dominated by John Hughes, who made classic such as The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (again, wrong, the best 80’s teen movie is Say Anything…). Hell, kids in the aughts will tell you that Mean Girls, Bring It On and Juno are the best (of course, they are forgetting about Superbad).
The gist is that these teen films are normally infused with the nostalgia of being a teen at that time. For me, John Hughes films won’t have the same punch because they aren’t set in the 90’s and not matter what you tell me, Judd Nelson is not a good actor. And yes, I find She’s All That surprisingly ages much better than most films that were made when I was a teenager (oh god, let’s list these…Varsity Blues, Idle Hands, Drive Me Crazy, Jawbreaker).
But a true classic teen film is one that can be enjoyed by all no matter the age or the time it is set. Some gravitate towards American Graffiti, Say Anything…, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Last Picture Show…just a few great movies that last outside of their time period.
But those are few and far between and even fewer last the test of time to be relevant and adored by kids and adults in 2015. Again, we all have our favorites, but one of the teen films that has lasted longer than most is the one we are talking about today.
Richard Linklater’s second film after his independent hit Slacker was the 1993 homage to teen life in 1976: Dazed and Confused. Featuring a ton of unknown actors, who some would go on and be powerful icons, Dazed and Confused has been praised as a film that not only speaks to a specific subset of teens in the 70’s, but also those who are nostalgic for their times in High School in general.
It was very easy to look past the setting and see your high school days. The relationships that aren’t really relationships, the spontaneous parties, the driving around or hanging out in certain areas. The who likes who tit-a-tat, the hazings, the cliques, the pranksters, the one stoner in the class, the one REALLY big stoner in the class.
Yet, the film also gave the characters something other than their archetypes. Sure, I knew someone like Wooderson, but he wasn’t exactly like him. And yes, it is possible that people will look at me and say “You were definitely a Tony,” but only if they knew the truth…
Featuring quotable dialogue, funny characters and an overall sense of wistfulness to the story, Dazed is considered to some as a nostalgic relic, but to some as a beloved game-changing movie that still hasn’t been topped since it’s release way back in 1993.
Alright, alright, alright…
The first thing you will notice when looking at Dazed and Confused is the amazing cast that surround the film. Of course, there’s Matthew McConaughey with his good ol’ boy swagger and charm. But there’s also Jason London, Anthony Rapp, Parker Posey, Adam Goldberg, Nicky Katt, Milla Jovovich, Joey Lauren Adams, Ben Affleck and in a brief cameo Renee Zellweger.
What makes the movie somewhat strange and enduring in a film buff sort of way is seeing these actors well before they make it back. That’s right, this is McConaughey before A Time to Kill, Ben Affleck before Good Will Hunting, Parker Posey before Party Girl, Milla Jovovich before The Fifth Element…it’s like a snap shot or preview of what these actors will become in the future.
The cast works quite well, thanks to the performances and the screenplay, which is neither grim nor saccharine. In fact, both the cast and screenplay straddle this thin line throughout the film of coming off angsty, doe-eyed or even archetypical cliquey. All the characters have enough typical monikers to identify who is who, while injecting enough personality that makes the characters wholly endearing.
Which, for a teen film with an ensemble cast, is quite remarkable. Even characters that have 5 – 10 minutes in the film seem to come in with a personality that most films wouldn’t bother making an effort for.
Unlike his first film Slacker, the movie does have a specific through line to place through the action tangentially, and that’s Pink, played by Mallrats’ Jason London. His character is first to appeared fairly typical: angsty, rebellious teen that questions why he’s doing what he’s doing. But as the film goes through, you learn more and more about Pink, as you would with most of the characters.
This leads to Pink being the character that all the others converse with the most, yet he’s not the main character of the film entirely. In fact, the main character in the film doesn’t come up until the end of the film: The Moon Tower.
Throughout the entirety of the film, all of the characters are broken up into groups and different scenes, but the only scene they all seem to coalesce is the Moon Tower, which makes all the buildup worth the near 1 hour and 20 minutes to reach this beautiful apex.
Dazed and Confused has some of the most colorful characters and best written dialogue along with Chinatown and Chasing Amy.
An oblique look through multi-colored lens
A good teenage movie is just a movie that’ll keep the 13 – 19 crowd entertained for the allotted time. It should have incredibly attractive 30 year olds acting like 18 years old, there should be something to do with Senior Prom and at some point some mean people get their comeuppance.
A great teenage movie is one that will not only keep that group entertained, but will also affect them long after they have seen the film. Basically, the movie is a nostalgia epicenter to remember the younger, more carefree days of high school. It will more than likely have all the trappings of the first, but it will also have a memorable character, actor or something that distinguishes themselves as memorable.
The best teenage movies do one thing: That no matter what the movie is set in and who is watching, it makes you feel like your memories and moments of your life being reflected on screen. This is what movies like Superbad, American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused did to me.
In fact, I can honestly look at many characters in the film and see a little big of the people I knew back in the days of 2001. And for all of the characters to give a colored complexion of one’s own high school memories just by watching the film itself, even though it’s based in 1976. It gives the sense of aimlessness with purpose that permeated the whole high school feel.
The pre-determined meet-ups that don’t need to be directly said, the wandering through driving just to figure out what to do, the social aspects of having a meet up where everyone will hang out as one and do their own thing. The film plays this perfectly without making it overly cinematic, which is what very few high school movies can do.
The music of the film is more than likely one of the best soundtracks to be ever used in a movie. Featuring some great southern rock, hard rock and some other types of music, the soundtrack filled with excellent songs just encapsulates the film in this time-free state of being.
A low stakes High School Drama
Speaking of the need to make teen films overly cinematic to a point of it being based in some sort of fantasy, Dazed and Confused brilliant decides to have the characters NOT graduate nor it being the last day of summer, which is a common trope of teen films.
Dazed takes place in the last day of school for about bunch of Juniors and incoming Freshmen. A point where the reality and scope of what’s coming next hasn’t entirely hit the Juniors, while Freshmen are looking forward to…and loathing to…see what becomes of their social lives when they hit high school.
This frees the film from using the typical plot lines in movies: the prom, homecoming, anticipating summer, nervous about graduating, finding out your girlfriend had herpes from someone on the soccer team, because of course it’s the soccer team, she couldn’t at least fuck someone on the football team? Who the hell would go for a bunch of guys who can barely kick a damn ball! And don’t get me started with the track team…
Sorry about that.
Anyway, this gives the film a care-free, somewhat light mood throughout the film, because there’s no anticipation from when things finally “end” for them as teenagers. Because, well, they don’t end. This is a snapshot of these people heading into that soon to be stressful time and it’s a beautiful representation of that.
People who lived in small towns or rural areas will get a warmth from this movie especially, the town it’s set in is also a distinct character in the film. This movie is much more about the small parts than big set-pieces. It rightly tells the story in a way that feels authentic to the tone that the characters are doing something worthwhile, while still looking antithetical to the more mature viewer.
Dazed and Confused is a warm blanket filled with your favorite memories from high school while letting you laugh at the ridiculousness of it. It’s like a family reunion with all your most loved ones.
Is It Still Good? Is It Still Relevant?
This Film Can’t Be Remade – For one, there’s nothing really to change because many of the themes are still relevant to today. Also, this film couldn’t be made at this time without being darker or pretentious.
Teen Film Lovers Must Watch – We all have that friend who love watching their films from their time at high school. Instead of snickering at them and telling them to stop watching every movie in Freddie Prinze Jr.’s catalogue, give them this to enjoy.
Need a Plot? Well…you kinda don’t get one – Like Slacker, Dazed and Confused is a pretty non-linear film that doesn’t really give you a time frame of where things are going. It’s definitely part of it’s charm, but if you’re looking for a stable 3-act structure, you aren’t getting one here.
It’s Like a Syringe of Blissful Nostalgia Shot To Your Heart – Seriously, at my age, this film gave me whistful memories with hanging out with my friends and doing some of the stupidest stuff I’ve ever done. It shows it realistically, but it celebrates it as well.
Don’t Like Film’s in the past? Still watch it! – This film is set in 76, so some of you might be saying “Why should I care about a movie set in the time of disco with teenagers?” Because the actual time period is sort of irrelevant. Some of the fashions and the way the characters look can still look vaguely like 80’s or 90’s teens, which makes them easier to identify with.
It takes a strong lead cast and an excellent screenplay to make a captivating film about high school and it’s malaise and drama without being preachy. Dazed and Confused not only does that, it does it with a feel of nostalgia who had a high school life at one point.
Election, Superbad and now Dazed and Confused are the bench marks of all teen movies to aspire to. And that is some strong films.
The Wiz Retro Rewind #10