by Tony Schwab
Dazed and Confused is a great film because it knows exactly how interesting it’s characters are—a movie that focused on any one of them would be boring, and a movie that took any of there problems seriously would be even worse. With each character given a handful of scenes to stumble around and make themselves look pretentious, everyone stays funny and likable.
The movie can seem plotless at times, but it is a lot less so than later Linklater films such as “Like Waking Life” and “Boyhood.” The main characters each have a real plot arc. Floyd (Jason London), wonders whether being the captain of the football team is worth signing a pledge to stay drug and alcohol free. Mitch (Wiley Wiggins) first worries about getting hazed by a group of seniors and then about fitting in at an upperclassmen party. He is doubled by Sabrina (Christin Hinojosa), another incoming freshmen, who ends up with the intellectual Tony (Anthony Rapp). Mike (Adam Driver), Tony’s best friend, worries about being a nerd his whole life and then loses a fight.
This, of course, leaves out the most famous character in the movie. In his first ever role, Mathhew McConaughey is David Wooderson. He is the ideal that most Linklater characters strive for: perfectly accepting of his place in life. In an understated way, he shapes the plot of the movie, Mitch takes on his personality when buying a six pack and sees how much it works. After this, everything goes right for him. Floyd sees how calm Wooderson is, shaping his final decision about football.
It says a lot about the power of McConaughey here that he could give the same kind of performance in The Wolf of Wall Street and fit in just as well. His inner peace is so deep, he stays the same whether he is an investment banker or a flunkey working for the local government.
The movie has a great time recreating the 70s. Like Boyhood, it captures an era by focusing on the most mundane parts of its pop culture. There is no Led Zeppelin or Rolling Stones. Instead, the biggest music moments are for Slow Ride by Foghat and Schools Out by Alice Cooper. A tentative trip to Houston to by Aerosmith tickets becomes a major plot point. When we see a movie theatre, Hitchcock’s Family Plot is showing. Hardly anyone is concerned with the upcoming election. This being 1976, they are much more interested in the bicentennial celebrations.
It would have been easy for the movie to loose its cool when dealing with the downside of the 70s. The freshman hazing and insane callousness of the adults could have been dealt with in a very harsh way. Instead, the movie sees them as another silly detail of the era, like the music or clothes. It has a sense of humor that comes from being twenty years removed.
Tony Schwab is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org