I often wonder if Richard Linklater knew his film would become an overnight 90s movie classic when he was writing it. There are probably very few people left in the world who haven’t seen this film. Dazed and Confused is as accurate a portrayal of high school life now as it was 24 years ago. While modestly successful in box office earnings, it has achieved a massive cult status among the young and old alike.
With an almost limitless amount of young acting talent, a stoner’s dream soundtrack, and enough hijinx and teen angst to satisfy any fan of coming of age teen movies, Dazed and Confused is an unforgettable film.
The film takes place in 1976 during the last day of school for the youth at Lee High. The incoming freshmen are trying to find a way to escape the clutches of the following year’s group of seniors who are out for some painful hazing with the help of their trusty butt paddles.
Randall “Pink” Floyd, the star quarterback of the high school’s football team, is being asked to sign a bogus pledge to promise not to take drugs with the goal of achieving a championship football season. What high school kid in their right mind wouldn’t take drugs? There’s no better time in life to get high and revel in your lack of responsibility. You’re always free to blame any of your own idiocy on “experimentation” too. This aggression will not stand, man.
As soon as class lets out, the freshmen have some serious trouble to contend with. Gangs of seniors hunt down the younger boys and haze them by spanking them with homemade wooden paddles while the female freshmen are humiliated and paraded around by the senior girls with their own special brand of hazing. The girls’ torture involves being covered in mustard, ketchup, flour, raw eggs, being forced to propose to seniors as well as being taken through a car wash in the back of a pickup truck.
Freshman Mitch Kramer is cornered by the older boys at a baseball game and he is violently paddled to the point of tears. The instigator of most of these attacks is the super senior O’Bannion, getting a second year to torture the freshmen after failing his first.
After Mitch receives his beating, Randall acts kindly toward him and gives a ride home and a subsequent invite to hang out with the older kids. However, the plans for the evening are brought to a screeching hault when pot dealing Pickford’s douche bag dad uncovers his party plot when the kegs are mistakenly delivered early.
Another vein of the story follows Randall’s three nerdy friends who decide to move past their social anxieties and party with their peers for the sake of some “visceral” experiences. Meanwhile, Randall and his friend Wooderson, the quintessential creepy townie guy, pick up Mitch and head over to the local poolhall where all the teenagers hang out.
Throughout the evening, the bored adolescents trek all over town to eat greasy fast food, loiter, smoke weed, vandalize mailboxes and cars, and try to find something interesting to do for the evening after their initial drinking plans went awry. Mitch, the young and inexperienced one, drinks his first beer and has his first puff of marijuana. A close encounter with a local who almost shoots them for destroying his mailbox kills the buzz slightly, but the night is young.
After running into his buddies back at the poolhall, Mitch and his friends devise a plan to get some sweet revenge on the alpha asshole O’Bannion. They lure him outside and dump white paint all over his clothes, causing the proud bastard to leave in a fit of rage.
With the poolhall soon closing, plans for a party at a local vacant field under one of Austin’s famous “Moon towers” unfold. Everyone heads there for some underage drinking and debauchery with plenty of booze in tow. One of the nerds further develops his relationship with the freshman femme he’s had his eyes on while his buddy picks a fight with a kid who beats the shit out of him. The fight is quickly broken up, but not before the sucker punching nerd receives another fine dose of humiliation.
While at the bash, Randall is confronted by his teammate and friend, Benny, about his refusal to sign the pledge. Feeling cornered and violated by the request to sign and the pressure of his friends, Randall brushes the whole situation aside.
After striking out with Mitch’s older sister, Randall goes back to his girlfriend and meets up with Wooderson and the others to go smoke a joint on the 50 yard line of the football field. The police arrive, prompting the group to ditch the drugs. The football coach shows up as well and lectures Randall for hanging out with his newer, more drug-friendly cohorts. This is the last straw for Randall and he tells the coach that he’ll never sign the pledge, crumpling the paper and tossing it in the coach’s face.
The film ends with the young Mitch falling asleep in his bed after such a crazy night while Randall, Wooderson, and company set out on their way to buy tickets to an Aerosmith concert.
There’s an eery similarity between the teen experience in this film and the universal teen experience that is felt every day by America’s youth. Themes of alienation, pressure, a crisis of identity, and the woes of social status help propel this film to its legendary status as one of the best 90s movies ever made.