Remember your teens? It’s easier for some than others. The years we spend as teenagers are a time dedicated to discovering yourself and growing into the person you going to be for the rest of your life. At least that’s what they tell me. And by they, I mean Uncle Ben. Thanks Uncle Ben.
Honestly, your time in college and the years following them are probably more monumental for a person’s coming of age than high school could ever be. But high school’s still important! It’s when a lot of us started dating or experimenting with drinking and drugs. For many of us, it’s the final moments we spent living with our Moms and Dads before going out into something a bit more like “the real world.” There’s a romance to it.
And it’s that romance that’s makes high school movies one of my favorite sub-genres of film. Pretty in Pink, Grease, and Mean Girls; what do all of these movies have in common outside of their setting? They romanticize the hell out of being a teenager, so much so that they probably did more to fuel stereotypes about high school cliques than they did to dispel them.
And yet, despite definitely having “the romance” of high school at heart. I wouldn’t dare suggest that any of these movies are really about being a teenager. How could I? It’s all too grand! These characters and their problems, while definitely rooted in reality, hardly convey what living in that reality would actually be like.
That’s where Dazed and Confused comes in. Dazed and Confused doesn’t spent much time setting up a large central conflict for it’s characters to resolve and instead follows them through the last day of school. Don’t get me wrong, there are themes of coming of age here/the characters do have a central goal of making the most of the first day of summer, but there’s a lack of urgency to the movie that’s refreshing when placed beside movies like Empire Records and Sixteen Candles.
For those unfamiliar with this movies writer/director, Richard Linklater is the master of telling relatable stories in a slow-burning, thoughtful way. His movies play out so delicately and, despite the common themes of identity and self-actualization that’s found in them, a lot of his movies manage to remain light and energetic.
Dazed and Confused is one of those movies. The idea of a movie that’s built around teenagers aimlessly driving around and looking for a way to ring in the summer probably sounds like a snooze-fest to some, but those scenes hit home in such a unique and timeless way in this film that they serve as a the highlight of the picture for me. The scenes that follow a more conventional sense of action (such as the ones that follow the seniors chasing/paddling freshmen) is fun, sure, but the way those moments fall by the wayside towards the middle of the film is way more interesting. With the exception of one character, O’Bannion (Ben Affleck), nobody even cares about the fact that Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins) was methodically hunted and paddled by a bunch of day-drinking seniors. And that easy going/forgive and forget mentality is so high school, and it can be found everywhere in Dazed.
The movies apparent aimlessness is what makes it so endearing. The way it regulates getting payback on O’Bannion to being a single sequence in favor of a few more vignettes of teenage driving is the perfect description of high school. In other movies, the idea of getting back at the bully would have dominated the second and third acts of the story. But that just isn’t realistic. A movie that dedicates that much screen time to a revenge plot is missing the reality of what being a teenager is like. In real life, Ferris gets suspended from high school, Bender probably goes to juvie, and every other John Hughes character feels at least a bit less triumphant by the end of their respective stories. But by making the final goal of these characters something as vague as getting Aerosmith tickets, Dazed and Confused taps into the experiences that actually stick with teenagers like socializing with friends and the simple act of living.
As much as I love John Hughes movies, they never quite end the way I want them to. I’m not saying I hate the ending to The Breakfast Club or anything, but there’s something a lot more sincere to the way Dazed ends for me. Instead of freezing on Bender on the football field like he just experienced the apex of life, we get a shot of a couple friends on a country road looking for their next adventure. And that just sounds a lot more my high school experience than the ending to The Breakfast Club ever could.
Look, it’s a given that Dazed and Confused is a good movie. It’s got one of the best movie soundtracks of all time, it features a ton of top tier actors before they hit their break, and it’s a great movie to put on and have a drink to. So like… Watch it. Rewatch it? Watch it if you haven’t before and rewatch it if you had. It’s a good one.
Dig this article? No? Aw… Well it’d be a lot cooler if you did. If you wanna hear more of my thoughts on Dazed and Confused, you can do just that by listening to our episode on the 1993 movie from your favorite podcast player! Oh, you could also use this groovy Spotify player: