Richard Linklater is a master at handling multiple storylines as well as various characters, allowing them to gel in to one very cohesive cinematic experience. Other directors would have a hard tie balancing out so many storylines, but “Dazed and Confused” manages to not only unfold in to a fun narrative, but also builds a myriad fascinating characters you’ll either love or hate by the time “Dazed and Confused” is over. A virtual successor to “American Graffiti,” this time Linklater follows a slew of characters over the course of one hectic night in the late seventies, as summer begins and school finally lets out. Director Linklater doesn’t have a singular thread bonding his characters, save for his ensemble’s core desire to find one last adventure before the summer comes around demanding some new form of responsibility outside of school.
Linklater is brilliant in building a narrative around random characters crashing in to one another and connecting and he exercises a lot in future films like “Before Sunset” and “Waking Life.” In the last day of school at Lee High School in Austin, and the new class of seniors are preparing for a new year of obligations, hoping to leave their marks, all the while preparing for the town’s annual hazing of impending freshman class. Star football player Randall “Pink Floyd” is anxious to get out of his town while also being forced in to signing a pledge by his coach to not indulge in any kinds of drugs of alcohol over the course of the school break. As he’s pressured by his teammates left and right, we meet new freshman Mitch Kramer, who is desperate to escape the onslaught of hazing which involves new male freshmen being paddled relentlessly by new seniors, all the while the freshman girls are covered in condiments and forced to perform silly rituals in the school parking lot by female seniors.
Along the way Mitch and Randall find themselves engaging in a series of adventures that also help them come of age and realize certain ideas about themselves that will carry them in to the new school year for better or for worse. Linklater follows the pair of class mates as they converge and drift apart, engaging in a series of entertaining and raucous antics including smashing mailboxes, cruising around town, and running afoul an angry home owner who holds them up. Linklater casts an impressive ensemble of newcomers in memorable roles, building a large foundation of diverse personalities, including a young Ben Affleck as a jock who delights in torturing freshmen, Rory Cochrane as hazy stoner Slater, and Matthew McConaughey as near professional partier Wooderson in what eventually become one of his most iconic performances.
Paired with an excellent classic rock soundtrack, director Linklater transforms “Dazed and Confused” in to a virtual raucous cinematic experience, reveling in keeping his sub-plots and characters very simple, while also creating conflicts that are very relatable to anyone who was once a teenager seeking some sense of rebellion. Though Linklater’s film is a generation piece pegged for an audience that fondly remembers what the late seventies entailed, “Dazed and Confused” benefits from being accessible to literally everyone. It’s a fantastic extension of the template George Lucas set in 1973, except so much richer in substance and characters.