When it comes right down to it, there really aren’t many movies as effortlessly fun and enjoyable to watch as Dazed and Confused.
The movie that gave director Richard Linklater his big break — and a film that contains early starring roles from Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, and Parker Posey — it’s been labeled one of the funniest comedy films, best high school movies, and generally best “hangout” movies by everyone from Entertainment Weekly to Esquire to Quentin Tarantino, and almost definitely inspiring later similarly-veined sitcoms like That ‘70s Show.
Seeing it is like traveling back in time not only to the late 1970s, but also to your own carefree late adolescence where the only things you had to worry about were where the next party was going to be (well that, and cricket bat-wielding Ben Afflecks, technically).
Set in suburban Texas in 1976, Dazed and Confused takes place over the course of a single day, following several different groups and cliques of friends on the official last day of school and the unofficial first day of summer vacation.
Most of the action is centered around 14-year-old Mitch (Wiley Wiggins), a recently graduated eighth-grader and incoming freshman. Mitch begins the film — along with his fellow freshman — dodging the attempts of the senior class who are bent on welcoming them to high school through hazing rituals, such as hitting boys’ butts with a hardwood paddle repeatedly and covering girls in mustard, ketchup, raw eggs, and flour.
After his punishment has been fully meted out, Mitch is invited to accompany the seniors on a night of drinking, smoking, cruising around, going to parties, and just generally having the time of their young lives. Interspersed throughout are scenes revolving around Mitch’s other classmates, all of whom are similarly hanging out together, regularly meeting up at parties, burger points, arcades, and other teen-populated hangout spots around town during the course of the night.
To boil it down to its simplest premise, Dazed and Confused is a movie about absolutely nothing. Like so many Linklater movies (Boyhood, the Before trilogy, and his newest Apollo 10 ½), there’s no overall plot or even much in the way of the story — if hard-pressed to describe it to a friend, someone who’s seen the movie would probably shrug their shoulders, “I don’t know, it’s just a movie about kids having fun.”
Unlike the John Hughes coming of age dramas movies of the 1980s, the movie doesn’t explore the darker, angsty feelings most teenagers have in high school, nor does it have the raunchiness or gross-out humor of other ‘90s and 2000s teen comedies like American Pie. It’s not even as over-the-top or story-driven or chaotic as something like Animal House.
But like all great movies and shows about nothing, such simplicity allows for pure, unadulterated fun as we watch these ‘70s teens engage in so many stress-free activities and get into all sorts of shenanigans (such as angering a ridiculously intense, gun-toting old man after smashing his mailbox). It’s like ASMR before ASMR was even a thought in the back of some YouTuber’s mind.
Watching it is just so calming and enjoyable, it really feels like you’re there with Mitch and his newfound friends in the backseat of McConaughey’s Chevy Chevelle, ZZ Top blaring on the radio and the endless possibilities of what the night has to offer ahead of you.
On the surface, Dazed and Confused is a fascinating and wholly entertaining snapshot of teenagers in the 1970s’, right down to the period-accurate music (lots of Alice Cooper, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kiss, Deep Purple, Foghat, and so on), impressive costume design, and nonstop colloquial use of the word “man” to address pretty much everyone (not to mention those fantastic, shoulder-length hairstyles 90% of the cast is rocking).
What George Lucas accomplished in 1973 with American Graffiti’s nostalgic portrayal of the ‘50s, Linklater accomplishes here — both movies make sentimental use of their directors’ childhoods, both focus on several groups of teens navigating their suburban communities over the course of one night, and both are pretty much plotless. And in both movies, you really feel like you’re there in the decade the movie is set, the look and feel of the films being so immersive and meticulous, you can practically feel yourself reliving the ‘50s and ‘70s even if you weren’t born yet or really paying attention to what was going on around you.
While its depiction of the ‘70s is definitely fun to see, though, the charm of Dazed and Confused isn’t its portrayal of the decade the film is set in — rather, it’s how fondly it looks back on adolescence and high school, regardless of whether they went to school in the ‘70s, ‘80s, 2000s, or 2020s.
As you might expect from a movie set in the ‘70s, much of the film is free and fun, but that’s just as much a reflection of how worry-free our teenage years are, as it is exclusively exploring how laidback and carefree the ‘70s themselves were. As McConaughey’s character says to one of the main characters, Randall “Pink” Floyd near the movie’s end, “The older you do get, the more rules they're going to try to get you to follow. You just gotta keep livin' man, L. I. V. I. N.”
That’s what the movie is primarily about — living and having fun and enjoying life to its fullest while you still can. And amazingly, watching the movie transports you back to that time in your life surrounded by friends, having fun doing the most mundane activities, like driving around town or getting greasy burgers at your local fast food place.
You don’t see the movie and go, “Oh, man, I wish I was a teenager again.” Watching Dazed and Confused, you are a teenager again, the same way you feel yourself reverting back to childlike giddiness when you walk through Disney World, let’s say. It’s an amazing feat to accomplish, and one of the few movies that I know that can actually pull this little miracle off so flawlessly and organically.
And even if you’re one of those people who hated high school — I know I sure did — the movie explores those teenage years with such fondness and sincerity, it’s like it completely washes over all those bad high school memories you have, leaving only the best and most cherished memories behind instead.
It’s the quintessential summer movie, perfect for any weekend you’re feeling nostalgic for a simpler time in your life — a time when the weather was warm, the vibes positive, friends plentiful, and when the best, most exciting night of your life was right there in front of you.
Dazed and Confused is currently streaming on Peacock
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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.