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At the Movies: ‘Dazed and Confused’

PATRICIA BIBBYSeptember 23, 1993

Undated (AP) _ Those of us who came of age in the ’70s have never gotten over the fact that our older siblings got to lay claim to the coolest decade of all - the ’60s. They had Woodstock, love beads and love-ins. We had eight-track tape decks, puka shells and beer busts.

Being a teen then was an experience in acute anti-climactic cynicism, a prolonged hangover from the ’60s. Deflated and filled with a vague sense of distrust of adults but suffering from lingering apathy, the ’70s seemed a time only to live through and endure, not to actually live in and enjoy.

So the fact that Richard Linklater’s ″Dazed and Confused″ - an ode to the ’70s - is such a resoundingly uproarious film makes the treat that much richer. And this film is a delirious treat.

Linklater, whose montage of aimless Austin eccentrics in ″Slacker″ became a cult hit, gives us a simple day-in-the-life of a disparate group of teens on the last day of school in 1976 in which the upcoming seniors haze and humiliate next year’s freshmen. The boys are harshly paddled and the girls are laid out and sprayed with ketchup, mustard and flour before being taken through a car wash in the back of a truck.

What little plot there is hangs around Randy ″Pink″ Floyd’s moral dilemma over whether to sign a form swearing off drugs so he can play football as the starring quarterback in the following year.

″You need a serious attitude adjustment,″ the coach bellows at Pink (Jason London), a line that instantly wins over the audience as Pink’s allies.

The other plot turns on where to have the all-important school’s out blow- out party after a couple of meddling parents thwart one bash.

Very little actually happens but - like life - it’s not always the events that define a time but the characters in it. And ″Dazed and Confused″ is bursting with wonderfully drawn and completely credible characters.

The most adorable is Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins), a freshman whose popular older sister inadvertently marks him by asking the seniors to go easy on him. Wiggins has a delightfully mobile and expressive face that telegraphs a whole range of youthful anxiety, even as he affects that studied blank stare of coolness.

There’s Wooderson (Matthew McConaughey), a cheesy guy pushing 20 who still hangs around with the high school crowd - more specifically, girls. ″I get older ... and they stay the same,″ he says, with a toothy grin.

There’s a trio of bookish, nerdy loners Mike, Cynthia and Tony (Adam Goldberg, Marissa Ribisi and Anthony Rapp, respectively), pained at the prospect of socializing. But they are never at a loss for a wry insight.

And, of course, there’s the class stoner, Slater, played with manic perfection by Rory Cochrane. Slater is not a blithering idiot but more a rambling philosopher fueled by his last bong hit.

As different as these people are, however, they all share a sense of limbo, a feeling that they don’t belong to the flower-power decade just past yet they don’t have the money lust of the upcoming decade, either. There’s an edgy expectation as they drive around relentlessly waiting for something to happen.

So, what was once considered a loathsome decade now appears rather sweet and uncorrupted. Drugs had a rather benign feel to them; there was no specter of crack lingering in the clouds of marijuana smoke. And sex, or at least the possibility of sex, wasn’t tinged with the deep and dreadful anxiety of AIDS.

Perhaps this was really the Age of Innocence. And maybe it wasn’t such a bad decade after all.

Written and directed by Linklater, ″Dazed and Confused″ was produced by James Jacks and Sean Daniel. The Gramercy Pictures release is rate R.

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Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G - General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG - Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 - Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R - Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 - No one under 17 admitted.

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